Last night was my fourth experience with my favorite Seattle based dance company, Whim W’Him, and after being given the wonderful holiday gift of attending a Whim W’Him rehearsal in December, I was extremely excited to see what the Whimmers had in store for me this time around.
I’ve come to expect a few things from a night with Whim W’Him: creativity, collaboration, emotional journey, and stunning choreography. And last night met my expectations and then some! In the hands of three genius choreographers, Mark Haim, Dominic Walsh and Olivier Wevers, the Whim W’Him dancers gave me some of the best dancing I’ve seen from them to date.
Three dances, completely varied in concept, design, and intension, united together to create a labyrinth so perfectly intricate, even Jareth would be envious of its brilliance. (Rest in Peace, Mr. Bowie). As the lights went down, and the curtain rose to reveal the first piece, Brahms and Tights, by the Maestro, Olivier Wevers, I was immediately punched in the sensory face by the vibrant colors gliding across the stage, and I was instantly engaged.
Neon blues and greens in every shade you can imagine splashed across the dancers in varying costume pieces, no two alike sending the audience into a visually stunning experience. The words ‘Whimsy’ and ‘Wevers’ often go hand in hand in my reviews, and this one is no different. The choreography, as tricky and sophisticated as the ingenuity of Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77, which was the soundtrack for this piece, took me on a journey full of joy and breathlessness.
The dancers, twirling and twisting, stretching and lifting, filling every complex count that the Maestro created for them with strength, grace, finesse and power all at the same time was mesmerizing to behold. Without giving too much away, because I desperately want you all to go out and see this show, let me say that my favorite part of this piece was the way Mr. Wevers utilized the legs/wings of the stage, cannoning his dancers on and off the stage in such a creatively captivating way, that you were never sure which dancer was going to join the next phrase, where they were going to enter from, or how they were going to exit, and it kept me on the edge of my seat!
The dancers synchronicity appeared to be a bit off from each other in the first few minutes of the piece. It looked like they were feeding off of and being ushered along by the heightened excited energy coming at them from the almost packed house and were dancing a bit frantically to mirror each other, so they had me a bit worried at first. But once the energy settled, and they all began to breathe together as one (another element I’ve come to see as a signature of Whim W’Him, I might add), they locked in to the dance and blew my mind from that point forward!
With the colors as vibrant as they were, under the always brilliant lighting of Michael Mazzola, at times they reminded me of tropical fruit taffy being stretched on a taffy puller, ebbing and flowing, folding over and over onto itself, twisting and turning to create new color combinations every few seconds. This piece was brilliantly choreographed, deliciously costumed, stunning fluid, elegantly emoted, and wonderfully danced. Bravo to the Maestro on this stunning piece of art, I loved every single element, and congratulate you on such a successful piece!
After a brief intermission, Overflow, choreographed by Mark Haim took the stage, and people, I was not ready for the emotional journey that Mr. Haim and the Whim W’Him dancers took me on last night! This piece, this complex and gorgeous piece, a contradiction in so many ways that kept my mind engaged and my emotions in flux all the way through it. Bear with me as I reflect on these delicious contradictions:
- Simple design and complex movement simply stole my breath from the first step that Mia Monteabaro took to kick off the dance through the final step of Jim Kent.
- Flowing costume pieces with hard hitting movement clashed to somehow create a push and pull of emotions for the dancers throughout the piece that had my eyes bouncing back and forth from dancer to dancer, praying I didn’t miss one detail.
- Like Mr. Wevers, Mr. Haim also chose classical music for his piece, but he went with Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde, and if you don’t know that music, look it up, because it’s brilliantly composed to somehow be heart wrenching and hopeful at the same time. And that is the ultimate contradiction the made me love this show. Mr. Haim’s ability to wrench on my heartstrings through phrases within his piece, but to leave me hopeful for new beginnings by the end, yeah, people, I’m in love with Mr. Haim’s creative genius!
Additionally, there is a set piece in this show designed by Corrie Befort that I can’t even talk about because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but trust me, this inanimate object somehow becomes the 8th character in this piece, and it informs the journey of the dancers and the narrative of Mr. Haim’s concept in a way like I’ve never seen. I can’t, I just can’t with how impactful this one single set piece was and how affected I was by Overflow. GO SEE THIS SHOW!
And the dancers, good lord, I saw performances from them that I was not read for! Tory Piel and Kyle Matthew Johnson, you know I love a duet danced by these two, but Mr. Haim gave them a section of his piece that was danced all the way downstage, and since I was in the third row, I felt every emotion these two gave! They stretched themselves from an acting perspective in a way I’ve never seen! No idea they had those types of acting chops!! They were so in the moment, so raw, so open, it literally brought tears to my eyes with how good they were! Mia Monteabaro and Thomas Phelan performed some of the most connected performances I’ve ever seen from them in any other piece, they were so connected to their intentions. And Jim Kent, oh, Mr. Kent’s final solo, I’m still affected by how beautiful it was. Mr. Kent physically embodied hope for me in this piece, and his lithe and graceful lines through his final solo, as the music slowly brought this magnificent piece to an end made me cry happy, hopeful tears. Thank you all for so honestly and openly sharing Mr. Haim’s world with us. Bravo!
The third part of last night’s genius trifecta goes to Dominic Walsh who brought us The Ghost Behind Me, so aptly named, as it was one of the most beautifully haunting pieces I’ve seen in a long time. I want to start with the sound and design of this piece, and will get to the choreography and dancers in a moment. Mr. Walsh had live music playing for this piece, and it’s an original work created specifically for this piece by Two Star Symphony, who were tucked into the upstage right corner of the stage, costumed exactly like the puppet master of the show, danced by my beloved Justin Reiter, black hooded sweatshirts, with long electric blue goatees. Playing completely from memory, Two Star Symphony’s music penetrated my soul and took over my world with their powerful arrangement. Hard beats, sensual strings, and pulsating percussion drove the dancers on, and the music so beautifully matched the choreography, my mind was absolutely blown with how brilliant it all unfolded.
The costumes came in three forms: The puppet master, with his dark hoodie and electric blue goatee that hung down to his waist, The Collaborators dressed in shorts and sleeveless collared button down shirts, and The Man was dressed in the same shirt, but in long pants. It had such a feel of Spring Awakening, so much so, that this felt like the kids from Spring Awakening reliving their journey as adults. I have no idea if Mr. Walsh intended that connection, or in any way was inspired by that show, but the aesthetic was so similar, I couldn’t help but see comparisons all the way through the show. The entire color palettes were grey with pops of white, all lit under a cool grey wash with pops of bright white boxes and a golden hand held spotlight. The aesthetic of the costumes really informed the story for me, and Mr. Walsh designed them, so his vision was clear through every element.
Now, on to the choreography. Sweet god, Mr. Walsh’s choreography is unbelievably brilliant. Strong, powerful, dark and deep, every phrase more intense than the one before. He wrote out in the program that the characters the dancers embody are like those in any story: Protagonist, danced by the newest member of Whim W’Him, Patrick Kilbane. Collaborators: Mr. Kent, Ms. Monteabaro, Ms. Peil, and Mr. Phelan. The Man: Mr. Johnson. The Puppet Master: Justin Reiter. Mr. Walsh cast the company perfectly!
The collaborators were the perfect greek chorus, following along the story being told through Mr. Kilbane and being manipulated by Mr. Reiter. And let’s talk about these two, shall we? There were phrases where Mr. Reiter was literally pulling the invisible strings on Mr. Kilbane’s body, the two moving in complete synchronicity that you’d swear the strings were real! A hip hop locking feel, I was so proud of Mr. Reiter’s ability to sink into the menacing character of the Puppet Master! I asked him after the show if he’d ever done movement like that before, and he said this was a first. Well, I was uber impressed by his performance before knowing that, and as proud as possible after I learned that little fact.
A phrase towards the middle, involving Mr. Kilbane, Mr. Johnson and Ms. Peil, and people, this phrase is so intensely provocative, so pulsatingly haunting, that I don’t know that I exhaled through that entire phrase! Following the Spring Awakening analogy it was like a combination a grown up coming of age moment between Melchior and Wendela, and adding in the maternal responsibility that is lacking from the Spring Awakening story. Ms. Peil exuded both a maternal instinct to protect Mr. Kilbane from Mr. Johnson’s influence as well as an overarching freedom that Mr. Kilbane’s character yearned for, and fought to achieve.
I don’t want to go into any more detail than that, because, let me say again in case you missed it above, I want you to GO SEE THIS SHOW! But the entire journey Mr. Kilbane takes through Mr. Walsh’s world was hauntingly thrilling, with a final moment that will be etched into my dance lover’s heart forever. It’s a ride you don’t want to miss, trust me! Thank you to Mr. Walsh for creating this story; thank you to Two Star Symphony for the perfect soundtrack to Mr. Walsh’s movement; and thank you to the dancers for so bravely bringing this story to life. I’m humbled to watch you all perform, and am forever changed by witnessing this amazing piece. Bravo!
I give this an over-emotional standing ovation, and a giant thank you to all involved with this brilliant show for a wonderful night of dance! Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!!
IN-spired runs Jan 22-30, and showtimes and ticket information can be found on Whim W’Him’s website.
Ciao for now,
All Photos courtesy of Bamberg Fine Art