Whether it be a dance concert at Tel Aviv’s sophisticated Suzanne Dellal Center or a folkdance jam under the stars in the fields of the Galilee, in Israel there is always something going on in the world of dance.
As a journalist with a passion for Jewish history, and a former contemporary dancer myself, I find the emergence of Israeli contemporary dance over the last two decades particularly thrilling. I have written extensively about Israeli choreographers and covered their work both in Israel and internationally. In 2010, I had the opportunity to meet Jerusalem’s Vertigo Dance Company.
Vertigo, like many Israeli dance groups, demonstrates an intense, visceral approach to movement. Grounded in a combination of folk, classical, and modern dance, these artists have created a distinctive canon of choreography and have a powerful desire to explore their complicated society through movement.
Vertigo is a family – literally. Noa Wertheim and Adi Sha’al the founders and co-directors are husband and wife, and the rehearsal director and Vertigo dancer Rina Wertheim Koren is Noa’s sister. Family dynamics bleed into the choreography, and the pieces often explore the themes of community, romantic relationships, and spirituality.
One of Vertigo’s most unique qualities is its interest in social issues. They have choreographed pieces about humanity and technology, the challenge of disability, and in recent years have made tremendous inroads toward environmental sustainability. In 2006, the company created the Vertigo Eco-Arts village, an arts center located on Kibbutz Netiv HaLamed Hei, where they and their families also reside.
Vertigo’s unique approach to environmental sustainability, blending dance and ecology, inspired me to make my documentary film Renewal. My film examines the connection between art and environmentalism, and explores Vertigo’s methods of dance, education, and social activism. In Israel, a country still going through so much cultural growth, Vertigo exemplifies the continued rejuvenation of art, culture, and the human spirit in the Holy Land.
I teamed up with Israeli dance cinematographer, Elad Debi, and we filmed Renewal last October on location in both Jerusalem and the Eco-Arts Village. Our schedule was both exhilarating and exhausting, many shooting days started before 6 am to capture the best angles of the sun, and did not finish until late into the evening.
Dance is particularly exciting to film – the movement can be short, quick, and punchy or unravel slowly. A slight alteration in the angle of the dancer can change the whole frame.
Shooting in Israel is a similarly unpredictable adventure. While we were lucky to film just two weeks before the November rocket attacks, one shoot was interrupted by a military drill and we had to be careful to film in between the sounds of overhead planes.
Dance is one of Israel’s most expressive art forms, and it engages people worldwide regardless of language. Renewal is an opportunity for new audiences to learn about a unique and powerful aspect of Israeli culture, and gain new perspectives on dance and environmentalism.