BECKET — On Wednesday morning, physicists in Switzerland announced that they’d likely discovered the Higgs boson, a subatomic particle holding key information about some of the remaining mysteries of how our universe works. On Wednesday evening a group of dancers from Israel did what dancers everywhere do every day: They ignored the laws of physics.
The members of Vertigo Dance Company — performing artistic director Noa Wertheim’s strange and wonderful “Mana” at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this week — defy logic by appearing to defy gravity. They move with tactile athleticism; at times a dancer slips up onto the back of another with the agility of a cat jumping onto an impossibly narrow ledge.
In the Jewish mystical text called the Zohar, “mana” is an Aramaic word that describes a vessel of light, metaphorically a source of power. Though program notes indicate that Wertheim’s 2009 dance is inspired by this concept — and Dani Fishof’s subtle lighting design is certainly a theatrical exploration of this metaphor — “Mana” runs on its own special fuel.
Wertheim’s choreographic palette teems with weight sharing: The dancers lean into, push off, or are catapulted over each other with such frequency and ease that it seems possible they are invisibly strung together. A men’s duet blurs the line between combat and canoodling, the dancers slipping over and under each other with a wary eagerness. Rakefet Levy’s handsome costumes flatter and follow the movement, the dancers looking like modern-day monks in their billowing tunics, skirts, and pants.
The outline of a large structure — kibbutz? temple? — serves as a backdrop and a vessel itself: Throughout the piece, dancers spill out and reenter, with little fanfare or explanation, through a large square opening in the middle. Whatever Wertheim’s inspirations, one needn’t sift through looking for answers to life’s mysteries: The very lack of a linear road map is part of the work’s seduction. This doesn’t mean that “Mana” is random. Even a few truly kooky moments — a woman tiptoes around on awkwardly sexy demi-pointe, the cord of a large balloon-like black orb attached to her shoulders — are part of a taut construction. (This orb hovers like a benign force, sun and moon together in an eclipse. Is “Mana” another planet — a utopia, perhaps?)
Occasionally the dancers do seem to prepare for ritual — they form into austere diagonal lines, assume first position of the legs, and look ready to begin pliés. Sometimes couples form, and, holding hands, stutter forward in mincing triplets, like shy couples heading for the altar. From there, however, the dancers erupt into ecstatic dances, devouring the stage with big leaps and folk-like waltzes.
Urged on by Ran Bagno’s eccentrically charming score, these ensemble dances surge with a kinetic mesmerism; dancers frequently rock side to side, ready to spring in any direction; torsos undulate forward and back or trace circles; the dancers make arm and hand gestures that suggest a language all their own. Wertheim’s floor work shows the unmistakable influence of another Israeli contemporary choreographer, the great Ohad Naharin: Her dancers skim the ground like hovercrafts on water. “Mana” is one of those dances whose power reaches past the proscenium and seems to levitate us too, just a little.