Monday, May 19, 2014

Whim W'him: The Courage Of Conviction

Whim W'him company members in "Les Biches" by Anabelle Lopez Ochoa
photo @ Bamberg Fine Art, courtesy Whim W'him
It takes vision and passion to make art. It also takes discipline, resilience and maybe most of all, it takes courage. Courage to try to re-create what's in your mind's eye. Courage to ask friends, family, and strangers to give you money to make your dream into something tangible. Courage to put that artwork out for public comment, hoping it will resonate.Courage to push yourself beyond your last success, or your last failure.

Choreographer Olivier Wevers has spent more than five years propelled by the courage not only to make dances, but to forge a dance company in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression. His company Whim W'him is in the midst of its spring program at Seattle's Erickson Theater. #unprotected is an evening of three new works by Wevers and two guest choreographers. They're a manifestation of not only Wevers' artistic vision; they're also the fruit of his courage and perseverance.

The evening opens with Belgian-Colombian choreographer (and longtime Whim W'him guest artist) Anabelle Lopez Ochoa's "Les Biches." It's a stunning exploration of femininity and other-worldliness, performed by the company's four female dancers.
Whim W'him dancers in "Les Biches"
photo @ Bamberg Fine Art, courtesy Whim W'him

Dressed in flesh colored leotards and helmeted in retro swim caps, eyes accentuated by dark, almost sinister makeup, these women are hyper-females, using those eyes to seduce the audience. They beckon us with long red talons that extend their fingers several inches beyond the living hands. They are not the female deer the French word "biche" denotes. Instead, they are haunting creatures from some underwater realm.

Lighting designer Michael Mazzola creates a series of habitats for these sirens, alternating between eerie and accessible. The world of "Les Biches" isn't soon forgotten.

Andrew Bartee's latest piece, "I'm here but it's not the same" seems a manifestation of this young artist's search for his own identity. Five dancers in hoodies and jeans move slowly across the dark stage, shrouded from us and each other. One dancer breaks away from the line, throws off her hood to glimpse the world around her. Quickly, she flips that protective covering up. The wide world can be a scary place.

Andrew Bartee has spent the past six years in the corps de ballet at Pacific Northwest Ballet, as well as performing with Whim W'him and other Seattle contemporary choreographers. At 24, he's decided to pursue his interests in new work, both choreographically and in performance. This summer he leaves Seattle and PNB to join Ballet BC. He's dared to throw off that cozy hood for real. I'll miss him onstage and off, and I hope we still get to see the fruits of his choreographic vision from time to time.

The final dance on the #unprotected bill is Wevers' "Above the Cloud." Set to Francis Poulenc's ferocious "Organ Concerto," this dance is an exploration of personal, and interpersonal, transitions. The ferocity of the music is almost a counterpoint to the huge white pillows the dancers alternately embrace and discard. Tiny Lara Seefeldt is literally cushioned by the seven pillows as the dance begins, only to have them ripped out from under her, one by one, leaving her exposed and vulnerable to her changed circumstances. We can't hide from our lives, not matter how we try.
Olivier Wevers' "Above the Cloud"
photo @ Bamberg Fine Art, courtesy Whim W'him

"Above the Cloud" reveals Wevers own transition as an artist. He's long been adept at creating intricate and emotional pas de deux ("Monster" and "Flower Festival" are just two examples). With this dance he demonstrates his growing ease with crafting movement for larger groups, as well as his ongoing fascination with inanimate props. An indelible image from this new piece is Seefeldt, held aloft by her six fellow dancers as if on a royal palanquin. She sits up, peers curiously around her, like a fledgling bird observing the world beyond the nest for the very first time.

Whim Whim's #unprotected is more than the three distinct and interesting dances. The program really shows us Olivier Wevers' successful melding of seven dancers into a single creative unit. Throughout his company's short history, Wevers has consistently assembled casts of great dancers to perform in his shows. But now he has a real company, on contract, and with this production we can really see why that matters for a choreographer. Not only are the company members technically proficient dancers, they are people who know and trust one another, who complement each other's movements and personalities. They are the tangible evidence of Wevers' courage. They are Whim W'him.

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