A dozen years ago, choreographer Noa Wertheim and her artistic partner and husband, Adi Sha’al, had enough. Enough of the go-go-go lifestyle living in Tel Aviv. Enough of high costs and little time. The pair, co-founders of Vertigo Dance Company, one of Israel’s powerhouse contemporary dance troupes, left behind the rat race for more space.
Space to live, space to breathe and, most importantly, space to create.
Wertheim, and ultimately her three sisters and their families, settled in Kibbutz Netiv Halemed Heh in Israel’s Elah Valley. There they live like a 21st-century tribe, sharing cars, care of kids, and a penchant for protecting the ecology of the land and for creating art.
“One. One & One,” Wertheim’s latest dance work, digs deep into the earth and into the human psyche. It comes to University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on March 13 for a single performance.
The hour-long piece fills the stage with more than 50 cubic feet of peat moss. Even on tour in the United States, as Vertigo Dance is this spring celebrating its 25th anniversary, it seems that Wertheim couldn’t leave behind the land, her beloved mother earth.
The work begins as a lone dancer meticulously pours a bucket of earth into a furrow across the stage. Soon enough, the eight dancers fill the space — two women undulating like sensuous seaweed, a battery of men flinging themselves with abandon to the floor. The dirt’s peaty scent fills the theater.
“I wanted to create a dance piece in the outdoors,” Wertheim said by phone from her home. “I had babies and dogs. I wanted to reconnect to the earth.”
Wertheim said inspiration “One. One & One” came from the fields and the open sky above. She has also found connections to spirit, self and others on the land.
“Two years ago,” Wertheim recalled, “the subject [of the dance] came to me suddenly when I saw a line of earth — a trench maybe — and it came to me intuitively.”
While nature and the earth shape the choreography, Wertheim took the piece’s title from a section in the Yom Kippur liturgy describing how the high priest dipped his fingers in the sacrificial blood of a goat and then counted how many times he sprinkled it in the Holy of Holies: “One; one and one; one and two; one and three.”
The words of Torah, Talmud and Zohar — Jewish mystical writings — are familiar to Wertheim. She grew up in a religious family and, although not observant these days, she listens to lectures on kabbalah and Jewish philosophy. It grounds her, motivates her and inspires her to create.
“I don’t know why this phrase came to me,” she said about the work’s title. “I like to use the stage as a place, not only a stage. In Hebrew, ha-makom is a place, but it’s also a name of God. To me this description of place, especially in the natural environment, is very much a part of my art.”
“One. One & One,” by Noa Wertheim, performed by Vertigo Dance Company; March 13, 8 p.m.; The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, College Park; tickets $10-$40; for reservations, call 301-405-2787 or visit TheClarice.umd.edu.