Jacob’s Pillow Dance
Vertigo Dance Company
Ted Shawn Theatre
July 4-8, 2012
Review by Seth Rogovoy
(BECKET, Mass., July 7, 2012) – Vertigo Dance Company’s Mana, a 50-minute non-stop performance that concludes its five-day run at Jacob’s Pillow today, is simply perfect and that to which all modern dance should aspire. It is complete, whole, fully rounded, engaged and engaging; makes use of all the traditional elements of staged dance (music, lighting, sets, costumes, props) without crossing over into multimedia or extra-dance territory (e.g., spoken word; film; video); and is a showcase for Vertigo’s fabulous dancers and choreographer Noa Wertheim’s innovative work.
In many ways, Mana is elemental – its palette is black and white (with shades of gray), light and dark, in keeping with the theme referenced in the title, which refers to a Kabbalistic notion of divine energy, encapsulated in light or its absence.
Its concern, however, also seemed to be with the notion of dance itself, and how light and inspiration fosters dance or creativity; how instinctive and instinctual human (and animalistic) responses to basic situations (hunger, love, lust, aggression, shelter) fuel creative responses.
In some ways, Mana seemed nothing less than an extended dance version of the “Dawn of Man” sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey, with a black helium balloon substituting for the monolith. An abstract house, with a peaked roof and doorway from which dancers entered and exited, or through which we could peer in and eavesdrop on what was going on inside, also served as a backdrop for many of the choreographed sequences, over half a dozen of them which came and went in just the right amount of time every one – just enough to please the viewer without tiring us out (as is all too often the case). This isn’t a problem of an audience’s short attention span or an MTV-induced aesthetic (although that had its influence, surely, on the dance’s final sequence), but rather it’s an acknowledgment of a faster paced civilization and a newer way of getting a point – or many points — across.
Thus, the program began with two robed men seemingly turning anger and hostility – as represented by fighting or martial arts – into grace and beauty, danced to Brian Eno-like ambient tones composed by Ran Bagno. The ten-member ensemble followed with what could have been an updated version of a dance out of Fiddler on the Roof, with folk references, community-oriented scenarios, and circusy klezmer-style music.
That balloon appeared, and it seemed to cast a spell on the proceedings, drawing attention upward, symbolizing weightlessness or aspirations, or functioning as an observer of the proceedings. The balloon got passed around and it cast a spell on those who took a turn.
Another sequence followed, fueled by a Leonard Cohen-like waltz by Bagno, whose music itself was a revelation and which undoubtedly many will be looking for after enjoying its power to haunt and entertain in a post-modern Minimalist fashion. [I found the score, available for instant purchase and download here.] The dancers, especially the women, brought individual personalities to the proceedings, united in an overall vocabulary, but each speaking with a unique appearance (tall/short; round/angular, smooth/jerky) befitting the subject matter and the nation of origin – a diverse melting pot if there ever was one.
There was a history of dance being played out, too, from the elemental martial arts movements through the balletic sequences and communal folk-style dances to the sharper modern turns and ensemble numbers recalling music videos or the finale of Slumdog Millionaire. Beauty and athleticism were always in the forefront, and anyone could appreciate the flexions and extensions of limbs and muscles on these artists wholly worthy and deserving of Olympics-style recognition in this season of the Olympic Games.
This was Gold Medal dance that will be remembered as such by those fortunate enough to have seen Vertigo Dance Company at Jacob’s Pillow in the Olympic summer of 2012.
Seth Rogovoy is an award-winning cultural critic and author of The Essential Klezmer and Bob Dylan: Prophet Mystic Poet.