I only occasionally stay for artist talk-backs after any kind of performance. I particularly prefer to avoid them for dance. However, I ended up staying to hear Noa Wertheim, Vertigo Dance Company’s founder, artistic director, and the choreographer of this evening’s work, talk after the show at the Rialto Center for the Arts. I did so mainly because I was curious as to what the name of the piece was and if it meant anything. I didn’t know the name of the piece because the Rialto didn’t give us any program notes. There were a few mentions of her other works in the program but nothing about this one. This would be surprising if this weren’t the Rialto, a venue that doesn’t respond to email from subscribers and couldn’t start a show on time if they tried.
Anyway, until she told us that it was called “Vertigo 20” I was pretty sure that the name of the piece was “Vodka Spritzer Night at the 1984 Discotheque.” The costuming and set were all in grayscale: the dancers were walled in by large, light-gray walls with shelving staggered along it upon which the dancers at various points in times would sit. The women’s costumes tended to be lace or textured tops over shorts of varying fit, ranging from baggy to tight. The men were mostly in knee-breeches with plain tops. The choreography was remarkably fluid with bursts of power. One section segued into the next very smoothly, such that it came across as two or three very big scenes but was really made up of a number of small ones. There was a lot of very recognizable imagery, like a romantic encounter or a physical fight, such that it seemed like there may be a narrative but nothing seemed to tell a real story. A wedding at the end, for instance, was beautiful but its being included didn’t seem to bring anything out of the work as a whole. It was like a tyranny of images – all polished, slick, and often exquisitely beautiful – demanding the audience’s attention and beguiling us into believing that we were seeing something meaningful when, in fact, we were merely being diverted, ultimately leaving us as empty as we came in. It was like the cable news political analysis or superhero flick of concert dance: pretending to give us something deep and insightful but really just giving us a particularly refined kind of entertainment.
That said, I like superhero movies. Wertheim’s choreography was gripping and the performance was fantastic, full of athleticism, excellent solo and ensemble work, and amazing timing. According to her website, the piece is an amalgamation of this and that from 20 years of the company’s work. In her talk, she mentioned that this was created as a birthday celebration, though she admitted that it was a sad party with a lot of sad imagery. I would write off the vacuity that I got from it were it not for the fact that I came away from seeing a work of hers two years ago feeling the same way. It’s like she has an incredible choreographic vernacular but neither anything genuine to say with it nor the willingness to simply explore purely abstract aesthetic themes. She also mentioned that she felt worried that, as she talked about her work, she was coming across as the kind of flaky, narcissistic choreographer that Hillel Kogan lampooned in his hilarious theatrical dance piece, “We Love Arabs,” which I was delighted to see (and taste) last night. Honestly, I was thinking the same thing and I’m not sure that anything that she said or that I saw in either of the works that I’ve seen performed by Vertigo will dissuade me of this impression of her. (It certainly didn’t help my opinion that she seemed confused that I would ask her to list her dancers’ names to credit them for their work since they were not in the program or, perhaps even worse, that she had a hard time remembering them.) Still, it was a very slick piece of work and I enjoyed seeing it performed.