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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 29, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 05
Whim W'Him presents an intriguing evening of new works
Arts & Entertainment
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Whim W'Him presents an intriguing evening of new works

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN A&E Writer

WHIM W'HIM
'IN-SPIRED'
CORNISH PLAYHOUSE
SEATTLE CENTER
January 22-23 & 29-30


Once again the popular contemporary dance group, Whim W'Him, directed by choreographer Olivier Wevers, has given Seattle dance lovers an intriguing evening of new works. It's no surprise that the large, affectionate audience on opening night felt like a family since the 'Whimmers' - donors, dance aficionados, and Wevers' former colleagues from Pacific Northwest Ballet - were there in force. The cheers and whistles that greeted the company were not only a measure of how much Seattle loves their adopted native son (Wevers was born in Brussels) but how successfully this company enables emerging and established choreographers to build new works on Whim W'Him's troupe of seven powerful, idiosyncratic dancers. Last year's program focused on newer choreographers Lori Landon and Penny Saunders. This year the honors fell to long-time dance-makers Mark Haim and Dominic Walsh. Yet what I, and all the Whimmers, look forward to the most each season is a new work by Artistic Director Wevers - and boy, did he give us a great one this year!

'Brahms and Tights'
Choreography: Olivier Wevers
Music: Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77


The most striking elements at the beginning of this dance are the costumes of day-glo pastels (if that's not an oxymoron) - bright lemon, lime, turquoise blue, violet - in a mix of tights, tops and, for the two women, what appeared to be cheerleader crop tops and multi-gored skirts lined in contrasting colors. Designed by Ronalee Wear on Wever's idea of underwater colors, the lovely palette seemed to play as much of a role in this dance as Brahms' passionate concerto with its lush melodies and throbbing orchestral colors.

The seven dancers entered an all-white stage in quiet solos and trios using the flexed movements that characterized Wevers' style - low lifts, bends, swings and swirls that call for the strength of a ballet dancer with none of the posing or showing off. In the post-dance discussion Wevers said that he is more interested in the 'path of one movement to the next' than in the shapes of the body, and you could see this idea develop into dance movements that could have been awkward in other contexts but which flowed from one point to the next in organic waves. The dance explored every permutation of Wevers' angular vocabulary in duets, trios, quartets, and whole-company patterns that grew out of Brahms' music, without yielding to the romantic gestures that this extremely romantic music could inspire.

One of the most striking qualities of Wevers' choreography was the clever way the dancers entered and exited the stage. Those completing a section and exiting would be followed by all the rest of the dancers entering behind them in a line - sometimes diagonally from up or down stage, sometimes horizontally from stage left or right - with the next dancers to perform a section remaining on the stage from the end of the line as the others continued offstage. These transitions were always executed in a calm, strong walk that framed each episode with something clean and simple to rest the eye and to allow the viewers' minds to catch up with their feelings.

My favorite episode in a dance full of great moments was when the entire line of seven dancers entered in a crack-the-whip formation that snaked around to stage front and then froze in a jagged line with dancers either reclining, on tip toes, or crouching, all holding hands, toes, knees, connecting with each other in a kind of mountain range. Slow movements began to ripple through their formation as though Brahms' music was an earthquake gathering from deep beneath the stage and trembling through the dancers' bodies in a remarkable explication of the violin's sinuous line. I was also pleased to see that Wevers used his whole company this time, rather than limiting himself to the four dancers he used last year in 'We Are Not the Same.' Clearly he knows what to do with a more substantial group. I would love to see him work with an even larger company since maneuvering large dance forces around the stage, in my opinion, is the test and triumph of a choreographer who has fully arrived.

'Overflow'
Choreography: Mark Haim
Music: Wagner, Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde


Mark Haim was very brave to choose Wagner's sublime Prelude and Liebestod for his epic dance, but what other music would be grand enough to frame a work about the pilgrimage of humanity? On a bare stage, against the brick back wall, a lone dancer appears to emerge from the earth wearing what seems like a burlap shroud but what becomes, as the light comes up, a beautifully dyed chiffon tunic. Each dancer wore an earth-tinted variation of this dress, designed by Mark Zappone and Hendri Walujo, which suggested the four elements on the seven dancers. Each dancer came on stage in a series of heartfelt movements that seemed improvisatory, but were, as far as I could tell, driven by emotions rather patterns. When the whole group was onstage executing individual movements it was like the cacophony of creation - I was somewhat relieved when Haim gave us moments of peace, as when the company suddenly fell down together and lay silently on the stage floor.

A dramatic element to this dance was a slowly descending black panel that had ever-increasing footsteps on the surface, so that its slow progress, as the sheer black cloth piled up on the floor, illustrated the steady increase of pilgrims on the journey of life - or the journey of travel, immigration, development - it was a metaphor that could work in many ways. My only complaint about this dance is that, for my taste, the choreography fell short of the musical climaxes. When the Liebestod rises to its intense grandeur, I would like to have seen the entire company on stage matching the size of the dance to the size of the music. That's the risk of choosing Wagner - one must present something very big to fill that musical space. Haim gave us a single dancer, who was as heartfelt as any Wagnerian singer but who, without lyrics, needed the company to amplify the passionate finale.

'The Ghost Behind Me'
Choreography: Dominic Walsh
Music: Two Star Symphony (on stage)


Live music and dance go together like bacon and eggs - or in this case, like a puppet master and his automatons. The musical group Two Star Symphony played electronic strings, xylophone and percussion on stage while a wizard-dancer vivified a series of insensate 'ghosts' who took on life in various stages of development as the dance progressed. Dominic Walsh has collaborated with this terrific group in the past, so the relationship between the music and the dancers was seamless. I loved the creepy evolution of the inanimate figures who came to life under the conducting hands of the Gepetto figure, as if the world was made of Pinocchios. It was a straightforward dance with a single narrative made fascinating and significant by Two Star Symphony's intricate, textured music - they are a five-star symphony in my book. The troupe of dancers were terrific, as ever, and I was really pleased to see how each of the three dances in the In-spired program involved choreography for the entire company set to fully engaging music.

Whim W'Him's mission is to bring new choreography to dance audiences, so if you can't get to see 'IN-spired,' then put June 3-11, 2016 on your calendar now to see their 'OUT-spoken' spring program at Cornish Playhouse, featuring choreographers James Gregg, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, and, our favorite son, Olivier Wevers. www.whimwhim.org

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