Vertigo Dance Company at the Shubert Theatre (4 stars)

 

by Johnny Monsarrat

 

Celebrity Series of Boston consistently brings great artists from all around the world to perform in Boston, usually classical music, but often dance or comedy instead. If you saw the street pianos left on Boston sidewalks for passersby, you can thank Celebrity Series.

 

This week they hosted the Vertigo Dance Company at the Shubert Theatre, an Israeli group co-founded by an Israeli-American. Their currently touring show, Vertigo 20, brings together the best pieces from their 20 years of performance. As such, it spanned a wide range.

 

Some pieces were comic, others tragic, with the clearest theme being stories of tension, with entrapment and escape, love and rejection, and lifts into the air.

 

The 12 performers sat on chairs mounted to plain walls when they were not in motion. Although the show contained a few stunts, instead of having acrobatics for their own sake, they were woven into scenes, and the troupe was not afraid simply to move slowly and gracefully. This was all accompanied by recorded orchestra music, from classical music with staccato trumpets to Slavic oompah music.

 

Unfortunately, the show was not entirely accessible to the audience. Transitions between disparate pieces were abrupt, without lighting or costume changes to cue up what we were seeing. Performers dressed in shorts, in street clothing or dark party attire. During the comic pieces, the audience had trouble figuring out, is it okay to laugh now, or are we taking ourselves seriously? The show was a short one, just one hour.

 

There's no requirement for art to be explained. Sometimes, you should skip the placards in a museum and simply appreciate art for its own sake. Many would say that art should stand on its own. Taken on that level, Vertigo 20 was beautiful but too eclectic for me. Similar to seeing opera or a Shakespeare play, where reading the synopsis is part of the experience, I wish I had known more about this production going in. I once went to an opera where, while we were taking our seats, someone from the cast came out before the show, right into the audience, and spoke about the history and context of the show that we'd be seeing. That was a pleasant introduction.

 

Unfortunately, at least for me, the production did not stand alone. It might have benefited from breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly, explaining the story or theme of the next piece to come. Many of the dances clearly were meant to have a theme, but I could not ascertain it. With such an accomplished troupe, it's tempting to make something up, simply to say that oh, it was very good. But I had hoped that the name "Vertigo" indicated that I would feel dizzying heights of emotion. Instead I felt a bit dizzy from confusion.

 

I'm glad to give Vertigo 4 stars for their elegance, and wish I had stayed for the talk afterwards.

 

Next up for Celebrity Series, see world famous pianist Imogen Cooper on November 5 (and I'm giving away tickets) and bestselling author David Sedaris on November 20. See www.celebrityseries.org.