My first love is dance. I began studying around the age of five, and fell in love with movement. And even though my dance training gave way to gymnastics, and eventually acting, my love of dance has never faltered. I love all styles, and am mesmerized by original and powerful choreography, most of which I see on television shows like So You Think You Can Dance and documentaries about dance companies. It had been so very long since I had seen good, inventive choreography in person. That is, until I discovered Whim W’him.
My first encounter with Whim W’him was back in January 2015. I was invited by a friend to join her for their THREEFOLD performance to support a friend of hers who is in the company. Having never heard of Whim W’him before, I did my research before accepting the invitation. And immediately upon clicking on the ‘About the Company’ link on the website, two words gave me all I needed to know that I would definitely attend the show. Those two words were: Olivier Wevers. I watched Mr. Wevers for years with the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and was always moved by his performances. Even small solos in his first year with the company left an impression on me. I never forgot his name. So to find out that he is the Artistic Director of Whim W’him, well, I had to find out what his new company was all about.
I attended THREEFOLD and was so impressed by the three pieces the company performed, that I purchased tickets for X-POSED the minute they went on sale. The only disappointment was it was five full months before I could see Whim W’him perform again. But I waited, and counted the days, and on May 30th, along with two friends, I took my seat in the Cornish Playhouse in Seattle Center with excitement of knowing I was going to see a good show. But what I got, was so very much more.
The show opened with a piece called RIPple efFECT, choreographed by Manuel Vignoulle. This piece was a fractured yet fluid contradiction of movement. The seven company members both pushed against and moved with each other in interesting shapes and levels. One dancer, Tory Peil, the tallest woman in the company stood atop the shoulders of two other company members, creating a dizzying height to watch from the audience, and continued the spastic, searching movement that both tingled and confused the senses in the most delicious way. I found myself experiencing anxiety and stress watching the dancers, like watching a suspense film and desperately wanting the hero and heroine to escape whatever is chasing them r holding them captive. And just when one or more of the company members would find themselves breaking away from the group, the group would grab hold and pull the dancer back in the most jarring way creating horizontal pictures of tension, and
the next thing you knew another fascinating vertical shape would be created as they all moved as one. This choreography was eclectic, volatile, and extremely creative.
The second piece was called Black Heart (in the program was listed with an actual black heart and no words), choreographed by Kate Wallich and featured all seven of the company members. This piece, oh this piece, moved me in ways I was not ready for and brought out emotions I was not prepared to show and it was glorious! Ms. Wallich’s movement in this piece was dark, tumultuous and at times, heart wrenching! Described in the program as “a cacophony of choreography in four parts” is a brilliant description. And of the four parts, there were two where, once again, Ms. Peil stood out amongst her colleagues, which, trust me, is hard to do in a company with this much talent. But Ms. Peil took me on an emotional journey I won’t soon forget.
The costumes in this piece, done by Black Magenta, were stunning all around, but Ms. Peil’s costumes brought out a whole other level to the story for me. She started in a pair of black tights with a white billowy sheer blouse that showed a black bra beneath. I point out this costume, because it was such a contrast to all the dark the rest of the company was wearing. It was the only light piece in an otherwise dark world. And the movement Ms. Wallich gave Ms. Peil added to the contrast. I found my eyes drawn to her, no matter how I tried to enjoy all the other amazing movements going on by the other company members. And when the company transitioned to the next part, suddenly Ms. Peil removed the blouse, to now only be wearing black like the rest of the company, and they all moved into a story that will forever hold a place in this dancer lover’s heart.
Three of the men paired off with the three women to create some intricate contemporary partner work, to eventually land all three of the women, and one of the men, expertly danced by Jim Kent, on the floor, lying on their sides, resting back on one elbow, with the other hand rhythmically drumming on their thigh in an invitation, yet the energy from all four was one of empty emotion and dread, and not sensuality, even though the body placement was overtly sensual. The next moment, the other three men would come and drag the women back, upstage in awkward and somewhat vicious choreography, only to bring them back and lay them back on the floor where the women would resume the sensual position, their hands returning to drumming their thighs suggestively. This went on and on, andeach time the women were laid on the floor, their energy seemed more and more vacant and emotionless. And then suddenly, two of the men, Kyle Johnson and Thomas Phelan (pictured) grabbed Ms. Peil at the same time and slung her back, dancing a pas des trios that was filled with innuendo and dark emotion. These three exceptionally skilled dancers created a moment for me that broke my heart, and yet I could not look away. Her limp body being moved wherever the men positioned her brought tears to my eyes and I found myself silently crying out for it all to stop, and yet was so moved by the dark beauty of what I was watching.
After this moment was over, and Mr. Johnson and Mr. Phelan laid Ms. Peil on the floor for the last time, the three women took their time standing and walking away from the scene, allowing me to see that Mr. Kent had yet to move from his position of drumming his thigh with his hand, and just when I feared that next would be his turn, Justin Reiter, picked up Mr. Kent, and as if to save him from the fate the women suffered, took him off in a loving embrace that allowed me to take a full breath since this part started. The tender choreography that followed this had me instantly hearing Lovely Ladies from Les Miserables in my head. Now, perhaps this isn’t what Ms. Wallich intended at all from her choreography, and I’m projecting my own thoughts on this performance that are a galaxy away from what was intended. But Ms. Wallich, and the seven company members moved me through an emotional journey that was both dark and lovely at the same time, and is a performance I will never forget.
And when the lights came on and they set up for the final piece, I wasn’t sure that my heart could take much more after the tailspin Ms. Wallich took me on, but little was I to know that in a few short minutes I was going to witness a complete choreography masterpiece from Mr. Wevers, himself. The final piece was called Alone is the Devil and Mr. Wevers featured Mr. Kent as the solitary human being pushed and manipulated around the floor by the other six company members who were phantoms tempting him with the seven deadly sins. And people, there are not words for how powerful this piece was, but I will do my best.
In a world where so many things are at our fingertips, everything available at lightning speed through the internet, a phone app, or even a drive thru restaurant, and never truly needing another person to satiate the cravings we all have for Vanity, Lust, Sloth, Greed, Anger, Gluttony and Envy. Mr. Kent was stunning, again dancing in an all white costume against the phenomenally designed black phantom costumes for the rest of the company, complete with stockings over the face of each of them, stunningly created by Mark Zappone. Each dancer in this company is so distinctive, but the minute their faces were covered, it really was difficult to discern who was who, and I found that absolutely mesmerizing. Mr. Reiter, for example, always stands out to me, and I couldn’t pick him out of the mob. The beauty of it was it forced me to focus solely on Mr. Kent and the journey he took facing each sin.
Sloth, Greed and Anger blurred for me a bit, but Vanity, oh sweet, beautiful, vanity came through the use of a mirror on wheels that the phantoms expertly moved through the space, and Mr. Wevers choreography gave Mr. Kent a perfect vehicle for getting sucked into his own image and then feeling the shattering impact when the phantoms destroyed the mirror. The special effect of the mirror was one I won’t soon forget. And just when you think the mirror is no longer part of the show, the phantoms put it back together and Vanity transitioned erotically into Lust! Lust was luscious, devious, and pushed boundaries of what I’ve seen in other dance shows in the most sensual, seductive and tantalizing way. I was completely turned on by the images Mr. Wever and his company brought to life and just when I didn’t think I could take another moment of the erotic frolicking happening on that stage, they transitioned into Gluttony, and Gluttony broke my heart.
I know so many people battling obesity, myself included, and the way Gluttony was portrayed was by the use of fast food bags. Starting out small, phantoms stuck them on Mr. Kent’s hands. Then larger backs on top of those, large enough to engulf his hands and go up to his forearms. Then larger bags came, and eventually a huge bag came that they put over his head, and the phantoms began to beat him around the stage with the bags, the sound of paper hitting Mr. Kent’s body was harrowing and heart wrenching, and he couldn’t see them, he couldn’t fight them, he was helpless to do anything against the danger Gluttony was doing to his physical being, and when they finally jumped off of him, all the paper bags, including the one from his head, were shoved into his tank top creating a very obese person, unhealthy from the Gluttony he’s been engaging in, and it was the saddest most terrifying moment and it literally took my breath away.
The piece ended with Mr. Kent turning in to a phantom and another company member, taking his place, showing that the cycle never ends. Mr. Wevers created one of the most honest slices of life through art that I have ever seen, and it moved everyone in the audience. How do I know? Because when the piece ended, and the lights went out, there was that moment. You know the one, right? That delicious pause while everyone lets out the breath they’ve been holding and wraps their mind around the fact that the show is over and what they just saw was real and amazing. And as the amazement kicks in, so do the applause.
It was not even a question but to jump to my feet in honor of the art I saw at Whim W’him’s latest show. I wish it was still running so you all could go see it, because it was stellar, it was emotional, it was raw, it was honest, and it was brilliant all the way around. This company has made a life long fan out of this reviewer, so much so, that I will be a season ticket member starting next season.
If you love dance, if you love creative expression, and if you love seeing true artists at the top of their craft, I highly encourage you to join me in becoming a season ticket subscriber for Whim W’him. Information on ways to subscribe and donate can be found here.
They entertained my face off! Loved it! Adored it! Can’t wait to see what they do next!! Bravo!
Ciao for now,
Press photos – Bamberg Fine Art