Vertigo Dance Company – One, One & One
Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre
March 9, 2019
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
The theme of the individual versus the group is nothing new in dance. Countless works have explored some aspect of it. Choreographer Noa Wertheim’s hour-long One, One & One (2017) performed by her Vertigo Dance Company Saturday night at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre, however, offered up a rather unique take on it.
Presented by DanceCleveland, the contemporary dance work by the Jerusalem-based company in their Ohio debut had the visual aesthetics and movement characteristics of works seen regularly on Israeli and European stages. For area audiences who see less of that, it was refreshingly brilliant.
Sound effects of surf and storm, a shovel repeatedly digging in the earth and the distant sound of a dog barking ushered in dancer Daniel Costa slowly pouring a line of dirt from a bucket across the front of the stage to open the work. As he did, dancer Shani Licht began a slow, dreamlike solo in place, her measured movements lifting and stretching one limb at a time. Then, joining the two on the bare, stark white stage containing two long bench areas on either side, others began to filter in to lift Licht skyward and move her about the stage — the scene set the tone for a carefully-crafted abstract work ripe with imagery one could read into its theme, but also left open countless interpretations.
Like Wertheim’s fabulous 2015 work Reshimo for the company, One, One & One found lingering beauty in the ordinary. The work’s dancers in grey pants and dark colored shirts executed multiple variations on pedestrian movement such as little shimmies, shakes and butt wiggles along with modern dance head stands and bursts of bending and swooping moment to Avi Balleli’s cinematic original score for the work.
The atmospheric piece then switched gears as Licht and dancer Hagar Shachal squared off facing each other with arms high in the air and mirroring each other’s movements. Another metaphor as to “the one” in relationship to a larger concept of “one,” the two women pushed into each other looking like a bird-like courtship dance, brushing the air space mere inches from the other without making contact.
As the work progressed, Wertheim’s choreography painted many more pictures of “the one” in solos, duets, trios and group dancing. The choreography constantly morphed, adding new elements such as hints of Israeli folk dance. For the most part, the movement flowed from the dancers’ bodies in a seamless succession of disparate movement phrases that felt connected. Only a scant few times did some phrases appear forcibly adjoined.
After more dirt was spread covering the stage, repetitive loud bangs in the score like gun shots invaded the theater space and jarred the senses. During this the dancers moved about drawing patterns in the dirt with their feet and kicking up dust clouds that, as in choreographer Pina Bausch’s famous The Rite of Spring (1975) with its dirt covered stage, the visual effect was dramatic but caused some audience members in the front rows to cough and a few to head for the exits.
Then, as another visual element of stage fog rolled in from above, below it dancers Korina Fraiman and Costa began a tender duet where the petite Fraiman was lifted and flipped about by Costa as if he were a gust of wind sweeping her up. The duet culminated in him grabbing her by the wrists as you would a child and spinning her round and round for a seemingly head-spinning eternity.
Wertheim’s clever choreography also juxtaposed lively group dancing with near slow-motion solos. One such example saw Licht move around the perimeter of a quirky and athletic men’s group dance.
One, One & One hit its intensity height when Shachal began to try to separate herself from the other dancers. Turning on her as a group or perhaps seeking to save her from herself, the others surrounded Shachal, who darted and lunged desperately to escape their grasps. They, like cats with a bird under paw, only reacted to her frantic attempts at escape and all was calm when she lay still on the stage floor resigned to her fate.
The engaging work then ended as quietly as it began, but perhaps with the dancers as a group more as “one” and with the audience of one appreciative mind, standing and applauding.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.