Jerusalem-based Vertigo Dance Company, directed by Noa Wertheim and Adi Sha’al, brought their highly visual Mana (2009) to the Durham Performing Arts Center this weekend. Translated from the Aramaic as “a vessel of light,” Mana sets out to create a rather mysterious landscape, with the help of an original score by Ran Bagno.
I loved the movement. Great sweeping leaps, low internal gestures; restrained rocking steps, wide scoots and slides. There is a recurring back and forth action that the dancers do alone and in pairs, each pushing the other. It is striking to see the group of nine dancers in unison, blown and tossed and skimming the floor. At the beginning, the dancers have a softness, a slow ripple that rides their spines. They show their palms almost reluctantly, glad for the shadows that settle around them. As the dance progresses, they cock their elbows matter-of-factly, one hand raised, palm out, or arch backwards, palms reaching, pressing blindly. The movement takes on a more aggressive quality—harder, with a sharp edge of sexuality. An unmistakable air of violence infuses their previous communal relationships.
I loved the costumes—long, heavy, layered robes that accentuate both the flight of their jumps and the weight of the landing. The fabric swings and settles after the body comes to rest, giving the movement a slight sense of echo, of reverberation. At first the women wear scarves over their heads and long sleeves; as the dance continues, they begin to show more skin—uncovered heads, bare arms, skirts that they lift as they dance.
I loved the set. A simple white profile of a triangular house, with one wide door cut into the middle of it, on a stark white floor. The set is not static. The square of the door pulls backward to frame the entering dancers, and once, it pushes forward, a pleasant shift against expectations. The house also glides forwards and backwards, as if propelled by the energy of the scooting dancers, or shifts to the diagonal, creating cinematic effects that make us feel as if we have moved to watch the dancers from the side, or zoomed out for the bigger picture. A large, shiny black balloon rises from the shoulders of one of the dancers, gently pulling her arms, knees, spine upwards. Its pull is not enough to keep her from falling, collapsing into her gooey joints, crumpling into the arms of the man who props her up again and again. For much of the rest of the dance, the balloon hovers over the roof of the house like an ominous dark moon.
For all that there is to love about Mana, I found its promise ultimately unfulfilled. The visual effect of the dance carries it a long way, but the sum of the parts do not add up to a satisfying whole. The choreographic structure, especially in the group sections, became a bit predictable and too reliant on unison and canon, despite the energy and effect of the group moving together. The development from the dance’s shadowy, ritualistic beginning to its more presentational, hard-edged ending left me looking for a dramatic arc that did not reveal itself. Comprehensive program notes suggested a “mystical journey” through light and dark, freedom and constraint; I felt the dance dipped occasionally into these rich depths, but ultimately stayed closer to the surface. I was ready to be transported by Mana, but this vessel only carried me so far.
Next week, ADF brings Brian Brooks Moving Company to the Reynolds Industries Theater (July 16-18), Shen Wei Dance Arts transforms the North Carolina Museum of Art (July 18-19), and the Paul Taylor Dance Company returns to DPAC (July 20-21).