Whim W’Him Gave Me Life with Sensation

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

16194886_10158070312345035_8100611831711689121_nJanuary 20, 2017 is one of the darkest days in American history for anyone with a conscience and a soul.  And both the Whim W’Him family, and those of us that support them are full of both, so it warmed my heart to be in a theatre with these people reminding ourselves what is truly important after a day full of nonsensical political propaganda.  As Artistic Director, Olivier Wevers, said in his curtain speech, “At Whim W’Him, we don’t build walls,” and he broke down as he started this speech, but you know what happened next?  The audience jumped to thunderous applause to remind him that we are all behind him and all right there with him!  We, the Whimmers, are a loving, supportive family, and we are going to always come together to enjoy the beauty and light that Whim W’Him always provides to its audience.  I’m so proud to be a Whimmer, and Friday night, that pride expanded to the rest of the folks sitting around me.  What was a very hard, emotional day, one where I just wanted to go home and pull the covers over my head, I’m so glad I made it to the Cornish Theatre because the show that waited for me was everything I needed to remind me what is good in this world.  So, let’s get to talking about Sensation, shall we?

People, people, people, this show, I can honestly say, is breathtakingly moving.  Aptly named, it created Sensations within me that were wonderful, dynamic, and powerful.  You’ll recall that I wrote a promotional piece about Penny Saunders’ piece: play-by-play when I was gifted the wonderful experience of watching her rehearsal a few weeks ago, and you guys, it evolved into one of the most beautiful dances I’ve ever seen.  Gorgeously costumed, brilliantly staged, the journey of this piece transcended beauty for me into something I don’t even have a word to describe.  It was ethereal, dark and light at the same time, and so technically and physically challenging!  Ms. Saunders did not take it easy on the dancers, and pushed them to their physical exhaustion.  From my seat in the fifth row, I could see sweat flinging off of the dancers as they turned and launched themselves around the stage. And that pas de deux with Patrick Kilbane and Liane Aung was as mind blowing as I knew it was going to be!  The lines, the extension, the core strength, the intensity, and the beauty by which these two dancers connect in their section took every breath from me!  I believe the word “Wow” came out of my mouth as a shocked whisper at some of the movement these two dancers are able to bring to life.  It was amazing!

91afe50c-e04a-11e6-a303-e49f56b5b765-1020x680The canons, the delicious, delectable canons were, as I knew they would be, unbelievably exquisite from a distance.  Absolutely mesmerized me.  And also as expected, the growth in the journey that my beloved Justin Reiter moved through in this piece brought me to tears, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him whenever he was on stage.  So plugged in to his fellow dancers, so expertly pushed his body through each phrase after challenging phrase, zapping his strength and pushing his emotions, I think this is the best I’ve ever seen Mr. Reiter dance.  Two people just up behind me put it perfectly, when Mr. Reiter began to move before the music joined him and one said “Oh my god!” with complete wonderment in her voice and her friend said, “Exactly.  That’s Justin.  Just wait,”and oh was she right.  Bravo, Justin, for taking on this powerful journey and sharing it with all of us.  The light you bring to the stage, even in dark moments, is the stuff that gives me life! Thank you!!

The second piece the dancers took on was called Line Dance by Larry Keigwin, and people, this was everything I needed on this dark day!  This beautiful, pure piece was the physical embodiment of joy!  The dancers, all dressed in white, shifting and moving from straight line to cluster, from full company phrases, to single dancers moving, it all felt like a stunning kaleidoscope that brought joyful tears to my eyes!  Let me try to explain what happened while I watched this dance – I felt complete elation.  I felt hope and happiness.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  The dancers watched each other’s solos and duets they weren’t in, and it created this bridge between performer and audience.  And they were enjoying watching their fellow dancers dance.  And the joy of that alone was infectious and just filled the room with light and joy.  Did I say joy?  Cuz there was just joy dripping from the stage, and I was so moved by it!

16142219_10158071168780035_6800517553139421950_nSo many favorite moments from this piece, but there are two I’ll share that just brought sheer ecstasy to my wounded heart.  First, Miss Tory Peil, we all know I love me some Miss Tory, and it’s because in addition to being an exquisite dancer, she is a phenomenal actress as well, and there’s this bit where she’s drawing lines and squiggles in the air with her finger, playing with Jim Kent and with Patrick Kilbane, and for all of her long, lithe frame, she was so playful, so adorable, it was just fantastic to watch.  Took you back to playing with friends as a child, and transported me back to moments of that childlike innocence.  And the second is during a super-quick moment where it was just Mr. Reiter and Mr. Kilbane dancing side by side, and they shared a look of complete friendship and happiness to be dancing together, and happy tears fell from my eyes at that moment.  I don’t know if it was part of the choreography, or just a real organic moment that happened between these two, but it was so beautiful to behold.  Mr. Kilbane dances with such serious expression, the technical genius that he is, so to see him let go and just dance with abandon next to Mr. Reiter is a moment I will never forget.  I jumped to my feet the minute the dancers lined up for their curtain call on this, because this!  This amazingly beautiful piece full of joy and light is what everyone needs right now.  It was my favorite piece of the night.  Thank you all for this!  I just love you for this experience, and thank you Mr. Keigwin for reminding us what joy looks like, because we all need to cling to it as we struggle with these terrifying times.

Lastly, the Maestro brought us another of his masterpieces, this one titled Catch & Release, although I must say, I’d love to rename this piece to be called Fractured, because that was what I got from this very deep, very poignant piece by Artistic Director, Olivier Wevers. Between the fractured light dispersing light and shade at harsh angles, as only the brilliant Michael Mazzola can do, and the way those light patterns were splayed across the costumes of the dancers, all I felt throughout this piece was Fracture.  Darkness fractured to just let a bit of light through.  And depending on your perspective, it’s either the light cracking through the dark, or the dark almost shutting out the light.  Either way, this piece was absolutely brilliant.

This piece centered around Ms. Peil, tortured again in a way reminiscent from last Spring’s show, where the object of her affection treats her so cruelly.  Mr. Wevers expertly uses his dancers to push and pull on Ms. Peil, both physically and emotionally depending on their presence or absence from the stage.  Ms. Peil’s ability to be emotionally open on stage is one of my favorite things about a Whim W’Him show.  She is not afraid of any emotion, she does not close off the audience, but instead just opens her heart and lets us all the way in, and my heart broke with hers in this piece.  Her breath, her beautiful breath, always present, always driving her through her journeys, caught so many times in this piece, and it was haunting and heartbreaking at the same time.

1-7-768x576There’s a major music change at the end, after Ms. Peil has been jerked around by her antagonists, fantastically danced by Mr. Kilbane and Karl Watson, and the company are all on the floor and randomly they get up and slow dance with Ms. Peil.  It was heart wrenching.  Gave me the sensation of when we’ve all been searching for something to fill the void left by someone who was in our life, but hasn’t fully gone away.  You know that sensation i’m talking about where, you start to move on, but then they show back up again and get in the way.  Every time Mr. Kilbane came back in to the scene to interject himself into a moment she was having with another dancer, I wanted to scream “OMG, just let her be, ugh!”

This piece was danced beautifully, and everyone played their part brilliantly.  And like Ms. Peil, Mr. Wevers is not afraid to open himself up to his audience and share his emotions and experiences, and i’m always so moved by his art.  And this one really rang true on a personal note for me, and I just loved it!14993564_10157676467865035_242998834512113789_n
Overall, this is one hell of a show!  And I urge everyone to make time to go see it while it runs through Jan 28.  Show and ticket information can be found here.

I give this a thunderous standing ovation!  Bravo!!

Ciao for now,

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Images from Bamberg Fine Art and Whim W’Him’s Facebook Page

 

Mind Blown at NW Dance Project’s Bolero +! Ps, I’m Baaaaaack!

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

Hello, people, did you miss me?  I know its been a long time since I posted a review of anything, but that’s because things like day jobs and bill paying took over all my time I had allocated for seeing shows and writing about them.  So, I retired in the spring, thinking my writing days were behind me.  But after what I experienced on Saturday night, there was absolutely no way I could refrain from putting fingers on keys and sharing it with all of you.

So where was I, might you ask?  Well, I was in Portland, OR, seeing the fall show at NW Dance Project titled Bolero +.  And while that + might seem like a tiny little symbol, trust me, there is sooooooo very much involved in that +.  And it all began with the amazing movement of Felix Landerer.

You may remember my review of Mr. Landerer’s work at last year’s fall show at NW Dance Project, New Now Wow,  where in addition for professing my love for Mr. Landerer’s exquisite choreography, I may or may not have mentioned how much I wanted to be a purple shirt (that piece was so fantastically powerful!), in this show, Mr. Landerer brought us another powerful piece, this one entitled: Post-Traumatic Monster which followed a dark and twisty journey of two people fighting their way to each other.

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Cody Jauron (in gray) and Franco Nieto, with Ching Ching Wong in background, in “Post-Traumatic-Monster” by Felix Landerer Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The monster, or obstacle was anchored by the beautiful and talented Ching Ching Wong who gave one of the most mind-blowing performances I have ever seen!  Ms. Wong, often positioned on top of her fellow dancers, shifting positions in the dark, twisting and contorting, holding intricate positions for beat after delicious beat, managed to transition from phrase to phrase with the most effortless grace I have ever seen!  She was so aware of her surroundings, of her fellow dancers, of her light, that I swear the woman has eyes in the back of her head!  Every time she placed a foot, a hand, a hip, or anything that another dancer needed to grab on to in order to hoist her into the air was perfectly placed!  She was magnificent, and haunting, and delicately stunning all at the same time.

And her protagonist to antagonize in this piece was expertly danced by Franco Nieto, who moved me to tears with this performance!  He literally took my breath away with the level of emotion he put into this performance.  Mr. Nieto’s lines are so stunning, the fluidity of his movement so superb, and his acting so on point that watching him go on this journey in this piece is something that I will never forget.  Mr. Nieto danced every count, every moment in this piece with everything he had, so much so that his gorgeous gold shirt was drenched with sweat and the willowy, lithe bow of his body at the end of the piece as the audience thunderously applauded for him showed that he left everything on that floor, and we were blessed to have been witness to it.

The rest of the dancers also played their parts well, creating the foundation for Ms. Wong, pushing Mr. Nieto around the stage, rippling and cannoning through Mr. Landerer’s gorgeous choreography, filling the stage with unique, compelling and dynamic pictures, so expertly performed, that at times I forgot they weren’t one being.  They filled every space between Mr. Nieto and Ms. Wong until they all faded into the wings leaving Ms. Wong and Mr. Nieto to finally have nothing between them except the space of their own making.  I yearned for them to find peace at finally being together, and Mr. Landerer tormented me by creating so much angst through his phrases, and the dancers embraced every nuance with almost obsessive emotion, that my heart broke as they never fully embraced each other in the way I wanted them to, but I’ve no doubt that is part of what Mr. Landerer wanted me to experience, and it was fantastic, albeit painful.  I’m such a fan of Mr. Landerer, and this piece just reinforced all the reasons why.  Bravo to the dancers for bringing this piece so hauntingly to life, and to Mr. Landerer for the magic he makes.

The second part of the + was a piece by a new choreographer to me, Lucas Crandall, which featured three dancers, and was titled Salt.  Oh, people, this piece spoke to me!  A trio danced by Samantha Campbell, Lindsey McGill, and Elijah Labay took me on an emotional rollercoaster that left my heart fluttering and my mind blown.

Salt opens with the three dancers, dressed in white from neck to ankle moving in slow motion towards the audience in front of a bright blue-white backdrop.  The movement was uncomfortable on Mr. Labay, yet Ms. Campbell and Ms. McGill seemed to frolic with abandon so slowly towards the audience, even sharing a blissful smile, when I suddenly realized, Mr. Labay did not share their bliss.  From moment one, there was a pull towards sad that Mr. Labay subtly conveyed, and as the piece sped up to tempo, and then stopped at a screeching halt, I knew what we were in for next was going to be intense.

What was last year’s purple shirt was this year’s white long sleeve shirt. (And, Mr. Crandall, I almost died when you teased us with the potential of the shirtless Mr. Labay, only to bring him back on fully clothed!  Such torment!) But then all that torment made sense as Mr. Labay did not discard the shirt, but instead kept the weight of it on him as he glided all around the stage back and forth from one woman to the next, and the shirt became part of the journey he was on.  He was the pillar and safeguard of this piece while at the same time being caught up in the storm that surrounded him, and the costume, so clingy and yet flowy, stretched around him in an intoxicating way that made my heart break for his struggle. (and also had me thinking this year that I’d never wanted to be a white long sleeve shirt so badly in my life! Wow!)

But back to Salt, I interpreted this as a story of a man stuck between two amazing women, where at the start they both seemed equally alluring, yet, as the piece went on, Mr. Labay gravitated towards Ms. McGill, and yet Ms. Campbell was still a driving force, constantly involved, now starting to appear to be in the way of the other two being together.  Mr. Crandall’s brilliant way to keep the women coming and going around Mr. Labay, who was forced to slide them and shift them to keep them away from each other, just made me ache for them all.  For anyone who has experienced unrequited love, longed for someone who belonged to another, found themselves in love with two people at once or desperately worked to hold on to someone they feel slipping away would relate to the journey of one of these dancers.  I just love pieces that tap into primal human emotion, and this is what the piece did for me.

I had friends with me at this performance, and they all had different interpretations of the story, but it was fascinating to see how much they were all impacted.  While we all had different experiences watching, we all had the exact same reaction to the ending.  Twice during the piece, gorgeous footage of ocean waves crashing down onto white sand created a wild juxtaposition to the storm raging amongst the three dancers.  And for me specifically, the ocean is where I go to relax, where I go to reclaim my center, where I go to breathe, so having that sound be the piece of music this journey was created upon rocked me to my core.  And in the end, when Mr. Labay and Ms. McGill found their way fully to each other, and hand in hand walked towards the crashing waves, leaving Ms. McGill behind in their wake, I held my breath to see how she would react.  And the ridiculously brave Mr. Crandall chose to not have her drown in that wake, but instead let her just lay on the sand, and peacefully watch them go.

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Lindsey McGill, Elijah Labay, and Samantha Campbell in “Salt” by Lucas Crandall Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

 

Mr. Crandall has a way of driving this audience member to the edge of a storm, and then gently laying me down with a soft landing and a peaceful ending that brought tears to my eyes.  He put a quote in the program from Karen Blixen that said “The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the salt sea.”  And Mr. Crandall gave us all three in this peace, and I am the better for having experienced it!  I’m an instant fan and can’t wait until I can see one of his creations again.  Thank for telling this story, Mr. Crandall, I thoroughly enjoyed it! Bravo!

The finale was where we finally get to the Bolero part of the program choreographed by my beloved Ihsan Rustem, and to say I was excited for this piece is the understatement of the year!  The promotion art showed the dancers painted, and I was just sure that was going to be the costume for Bolero, and oh was I right! From the first move to the final prop drop, Bolero entertained, excited and enthralled me in only the way Mr. Rustem’s wit and genius can do!

This piece to this amazingly challenging music was full of whimsical sensuality.  All of the dancers, clad in black pants and body paint and nothing else were provocative and sexy throughout this piece.  Shifting between duos, trios, and full company synchronicity, a signature of Mr. Rustem’s that I have come to adore, was so brilliantly done that I found myself on the edge of my seat to find out who was going to come out and dance next!

With a music so repetitive, the test comes in finding new, interesting phrases to fill an entire piece, and Mr. Rustem did this with epic creativity!  No two phrases the same, no two counts repetitive, I didn’t dare blink for fear of missing one delectable moment!  No one fills an 8 count like Mr. Rustem, and Bolero had so many for him to fill and he did each one more masterfully than the one before it!  Loved it!

Always a brilliant master of light and space, Mr. Rustem created a second plane of performance utilizing backlighting, raised raked platforms, and black curtains that gave the dancers the ability to tantalize and tittilate in silhouette and shadow!  And utilizing a rose in a deliciously phallic accoutrement/through-line to the entire piece showed off Mr. Rustem’s dazzling ability to play with an audience!

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“Boléro” by Ihsan Rustem Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The entire company was brilliant in Bolero, and the new faces in the company held their own with the veterans who already have my heart.  The women in this piece were a lovely combination of flirty and strong, enticing and teasing the men every chance they got!  The men, all of whom were a delicious mix of sexuality and humor took center stage in this piece for me!  Mr. Nieto and Mr. Labay, specifically, enflamed the stage, yet again, with their heavenly bodies contorting around Mr. Rustem’s movement, and man did the paint look fantastic on them!  You, two, I swear, I’d travel around the world to watch you dance!  You just simply take my breath away no matter what story you are telling!

However, Kody Jauron, who I fell in love with during Mr. Rustem’s piece from last spring’s show, Le Fil Rouge, was the one my eye went to most often, enticing little sprite that he is!  Mr. Jauron danced with so much abandon, so much flair, so much fierce energy that he pulled my focus whenever he was on stage, entertaining me all the way through! (although there was one phrase where the full company was to be dancing in unison, and Mr. Jauron was doing juuuuuuust a bit more than the rest, and I became Zach from a Chorus Line in my head for a moment, where I silently shouted to myself, “Cassie, there’s no head release with that kick!” but when a dancer is dancing with such joy, it’s easy to overlook.)  Mr. Jauron kicked off the show with his Puck-like mischief, and carried that level of fun all the way to the final bow.  Bravo, Sir!  I simply adore you!

Bolero is now in the books for me as one of my all time favorite performances I’ve seen.  I love wit, I love sensuality, I love innuendo, I love confidence, and I absolutely love brave, creative movement, and Mr. Rustem just gave me everything I loved, complete with a troupe of painted, gorgeous dancers bringing his imaginations to life!  It’s this level of passion that makes it so easy to drive the three hours to see a NW Dance Project show.  And should you be anywhere near there where you can get to Portland to see one of their shows, you absolutely should!  Guaranteed your mind will be blown!  Come with me to the next one, won’t you?

I’m so sorry that there aren’t more performances of this wonderful program for you to go see, but sadly it closed on Saturday night.  But please believe me when I say the best gift you can give yourself, if you love dance even a little bit, is to go see a NW Dance Project production.  Not only did Bolero + give me an epic experience, but it inspired me to get my ass back to writing this blog, because I really have missed it.  Thank you, NWDP for that gift!

I give this entire show a thunderous applause and a Bravo +!559112_332957660122406_1191550343_n

Ciao for now,

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Through Control and the Forehead, NW Dance Project’s Louder Than Words was Epic!

Dance Review

Portland is about 3 hours away, by car, from Seattle, and there are few things that would entice me to make that drive knowing that I have to turn around and come back the same day.  And the thing at the top of that enticing list is NW Dance Project.

You’ll recall I raved about this brilliant company in my last review of them back in October, and I had no doubt this show would be as wonderful as that one. However, I was shocked and awed this go round, because this show, titled Louder Than Words, is the best piece of art I have seen since I took fingertips to keys to start this blog!  I was not prepared for the impact each choreographer would have on me, both as a dance lover and as a human being.  My only regret is that I’m only ever able to see these shows on closing night, because I wish I could see it early enough to tell you about it and have you get the chance to experience it yourself.  But since that is not an option, let me walk you through the mesmerizing brilliance of three spectacular choreographers:  Alex Soares, Sarah Slipper, and Ihsan Rustem.

The first piece of the night was titled Trace in Loss, and was choreographed by Alex Soares and took the audience on a journey through three phases of a relationship, and was danced  beautifully by Samantha Campbell, Elija Labay (still have a huge crush on this one!), Franco Nieto, Andrea Parson, Viktor Usov and Ching Ching Wong.  The movement Mr. Soares placed on these six stunning dancers was as bold as it was bashful, as controlled as it was charismatic, and as delicate as it was daring.  The first phase took us through the beginning of love; that delicious time where you’re exploring and learning about your lover, falling deeper the more you learn.  The second phase told the story of friction when in love; possibly betrayal, definitely anger the more you learn.  And finally, the end of a relationship; perhaps through death or through walking away, but loss none the less.  The story was so clear, the choreography so perfectly placed on individual dancers, the collaboration of this company and Mr. Soares was breathtaking to behold.

The two themes throughout this entire show that impacted me the most were control and the forehead.  Mr. Soares introduced both to me in this piece, because there were so many phrases where the dancers, the female dancers especially, would hold seemingly impossible positions effortlessly, with complete control.  And then in the middle phrase where the anger came in, the push and pull of control within the movement, and with each other, Mr. Usov and Ms. Wong blew my mind!  And the final phrase, loss of control over the relationship’s mere existence mirrored in the movement.  Stunning all the way around.

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NW Dance Project,Dress rehearsal,”Louder Than Words”,Choreographers: Sarah Slipper, Ihsan Rustem, Alex Soares

And the forehead, Mr. Soares had so many moments where the male dancer would touch his female partner’s forehead with his palm; sometimes leading her, sometimes caressing her, and sometimes violently pushing her away.  The forehead is such an intimate place to be touched.  We all know the impact of someone kissing us on the forehead.  Buddhists greet each other by touching foreheads.  It’s a connection that Mr. Soares really played with beautifully in his piece and it really spoke to me.

Lastly, I want to mention that Mr. Soares, along with lighting designer Jeff Forbes, utilized a white draped fabric with a projector behind it which gave the most intense geographic shapes on to the screen that enhanced each phrase in the most beguiling way, especially the end moment where a relationship ended amidst the lights.  It was absolutely brilliant!  I’m an instant fan of Mr. Soares and hope to see more of his work in the future.

The second piece, titled Airys, was choreographed by NW Dance Project’s Artistic Director, Sarah Slipper, and people, this piece, this glorious piece literally knocked the wind out of me with its power and beauty.  I didn’t know anything about the story going in, but afterwards, in speaking with Ms. Slipper, she told me she was inspired by news footage of the war in Syria, where a female reporter was inside the war torn area, and behind her was a woman holding her dying child who had been mortally wounded in the bombings.  The child died during that broadcast, and it impacted Ms. Slipper right down to her soul.  The next day, the female reporter was killed as well, and all of that loss, all of that violence, all of that sorrow inspired Ms. Slipper to create one of the most hauntingly stunning pieces I’ve ever seen.

The piece opens with two black curtains draped from the ceiling to the stage floor, and they are placed in such a way that depending on where you are sitting will determine how much of the dancing you will see.  From my seat I could see the featured dancer in this piece, Andrea Parson performing phrase after gracefully controlled phrase in a soft light wash.  However, those to my right couldn’t see her at all, and I could hear murmurings from the audience members expressing their frustration with not being able to see what was going on.  It was in that moment, I realized, that was Ms. Slipper’s intention.  She didn’t want everyone to see the same thing.  She wanted limited views, limited frustrations, because that energy fed the story being told on stage.

Ms. Parson, oh Ms. Parson, this sensational dancer, ebbed and flowed through this piece, a dazzling combination of control and emotion, so in the moment during every phrase, she literally stole my breath.  The rest of the company, dancing in and around Ms. Parson added to the story in the most impactful way.  They physically embodied struggle, heartbreak, loss and fear.  One phrase, with Ms. Parson downstage twisting and turning, all the while the company running around the stage in a group, lost, as if not knowing where they would be safe, eventually pulling Ms. Parson into their herd.  And as the audience, you just want them to find a safe place!

The curtains eventually fall in two large clumps of fabric, and while the company frantically rolled one curtain off the stage as quickly as they could, Ms. Parson handled the other with the care and gentleness a mother would have holding her infant.  And Ms. Slipper confirmed for me that is exactly what she intended.  The complex dichotomy of these two moments happening simultaneously brought tears to my eyes that continued to flow down my face for the rest of this emotional kaleidoscope of a piece.

And what I mean by that is just when the sorrow and the loss and the grief began to take over the room, the music changed, and the lights changed, and suddenly there appeared a soft waterfall of earth pouring down onto the stage.  And Ms. Parson, who had been clothed in a tight black top and pants turned her back on the audience, removed her top and simply stood and breathed for a few beats, and something in that subtle movement brought me peace.  And then Ms. Parson was joined by the single most stunning male dancer I have ever seen dance live in my life.  And his name is Franco Nieto.

Mr. Nieto’s movement, his lines, his ability to complete a movement all at the same time being so emotionally connected to every moment was something I was NOT ready for!  Mr. Nieto did not perform with NW Dance Project last October, so this was my first time seeing him, and people, I think I found a new religion, and its name is Franco Nieto!  Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, because I was so mesmerized by the charismatic authenticity this dancer brought to this role, I was afraid to blink for fear of missing one single moment!

So when the graceful sprite that is Ms. Parson was joined on the floor by the heart-stopping dance God that is Mr. Nieto, both topless and vulnerable to the element of the earth falling around them, connected immediately in both rhythm and soul, my dance lover’s heart was so full I feared it would burst in my chest from sheer joy!

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NW Dance Project,Dress rehearsal,”Louder Than Words”,Choreographers: Sarah Slipper, Ihsan Rustem, Alex Soares

This entire series, Mr. Nieto lifting and leading Ms. Parson, in and around the earth falling around them was full of intensity, and yet had a lightness that signaled a bit of peace for Ms. Parson. She was headed to her grave, you could sense that the moment this phrase began, and as the section went on, Ms. Parson’s movement because more and more peaceful and calm, while Mr. Nieto’s became more intense with a push and pull of ‘stay with me just one more moment’ and ‘I know you have to go.’  More forehead touching came in during this piece, in that same tender way, and I would give anything to have Mr. Nieto palm my forehead, because he does it with such an intimacy, such controlled connection, and it hit me how much the forehead was featured throughout Louder Than Words.

When he finally laid her to rest amidst the the pile of earth on the floor, and allowed the earth to fall on her still body, Mr. Nieto’s weeping could be heard throughout the theatre, and it was the perfect ending to this magnanimous story.  He wept for her, and we wept along with him.  And when the lights went out, there was that hush.  You know the one I mean, that delicious hush that comes when the audience is so impacted, so moved by what they just saw, there’s a brief pause while their heart reconnects to their brain reminding them that it’s over, and time now to bring the thunderous applause that these dancers deserve.

Afterwards I thanked Ms. Slipper for this piece, because it truly changed my life.  I’ve never been affected by a piece like that which I knew nothing about going in, and not only was the story clear, the artistry with which she reminded us of the very real horrors that people in war torn places endure is something everyone should see.  Bravo to Ms. Slipper for her bravery to take this on, and Bravo to the company for bringing her vision to life.  We are all the better for having seen it!  And I will never forget it.  Thank you all!

The final piece of the night came to us through the creative genius that is my beloved Ihsan Rustem!  It’s no secret I’m in love with Ihsan’s choreography, but last Saturday I saw a whole new side to Mr. Rustem, and good Lawd, was it a good time!  After all the heaviness and emotional turmoil in the first two pieces, Mr. Rustem ended our night by reminding us that comedic genius is also something that is Louder Than Words!

Le Fil Rouge, a delightful and whimsical journey soundtracked by the likes of Doris Day, Edith Piaf, and La Lupe was gorgeous from moment one!  It started with Mr. Nieto on stage in front of the curtain, wearing the very French ensemble of black pants, a black and white striped shirt, and a black tuxedo jacket.  And when he slid, albeit was pulled, under the curtain to kick off the laughter, I knew we were in for a treat.

The entire company was in the same outfits, with one single red balloon looming over the stage making me wonder how that would play into this piece.  The dancers moved through a black and white world with their black and white costumes changing from the striped shirts/pants to booty shorts and tuxedo tops, to shirtless men and bandeau top wearing women, but always with a bright red accent somewhere within the piece.  Loved the choice, loved the colors, loved it all, loved it!

Whether the entire company was on stage, or just two or three dancers at a time, the through line of this piece was evident: Fun and Flirty!  There was a pas de trois where three female company members danced practically in the dark with red bicycle lights in their mouths, and they were lip synching along with the music, so whenever they opened their lips, this glowing red light shined and contrasted the dark lighting, and it was hysterically hypnotic!   I also loved the moments when the whole company was on stage, where two to three dancers would be downstage dancing solos, and the rest of the company would be all the way upstage, backs to the audience, flirting with us in silhouette utilizing their coats over their booty shorts in a very Gypsy Rose Lee montage, and it was tantalizingly spectacular!

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All the dancers were brilliant in this piece, but the one who stood out to me this time was Kody Jauron.  Mr. Jauron truly embodied the comedic style that Mr. Rustem was trying to achieve.  He sunk down into each phrase, and was giving some serious face to the audience in the best possibly way.  He stood out from the company, phrase after phrase, and I hope there are more opportunities for Mr. Jauron to do comedic dances in the future, because he was friggin fantastic!

And speaking of Mr. Jauron, my favorite section of this amazing piece was danced by the captivating Mr. Jauron and the devilishly handsome Elijah Labay (we’ve talked about how much I’m in love with this dancer, right?  Oh, right we have, from the last blog, wanting to be a  purple shirt soooooo badly, right, ok…moving on!) Anyway, Mr. Rustem created a pas de deux for these two to Doris Day’s Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps, and people, I can’t!  It was so good!  So, Mr. Jauron spends the number trying to tempt Mr. Labay into a delectable sexual tryst, and Mr. Labay was seriously playing hard to get, but in that way that a spider plays with a fly.  Like, I totally want you, but am not going to give it to you that easily, so how hard will you work for it?  And Mr. Jauron werrrrrrrked for it! Loved it!  It had a very Brian Kinney and Justin Taylor feel to it.  (And if you don’t know who those two characters are, I suggest you Google search those two and then invest in some Netflix time, because it’s all kinds of hot!)  And Mr. Labay and Mr. Jauron were just as hot, and fun, and flirty, and sexy, and naughty, and Bravo to these two men for committing so fully to these characters!  I loved it!  And just like the purple shirt moment from the last show, now I also never wanted to drag someone across a floor by their ankle so badly in my life! Yummy!  Thank you, Mr. Rustem, for this tantalizing piece!

This witty and whimsical creation was the perfect ending to a dazzling night of dance.  And in Mr. Rustem’s piece, guess what else showed up?  More touching of the forehead!  I know these three choreographers didn’t collaborate on these pieces, especially since both Trace In Loss and Airys were created in 2012, whereas Le Fil Rouge was world premiering, and yet the forehead being such a dominant movement choice really struck me.  I simply adored it.

The control with which the NW Dance Project company dances is an inherit talent that I’m not sure can be taught.  Because with that control comes the ability to know when and how to let go of that control.  And with dancers with that innate bravery, it has to be such a gift for any choreographer who is blessed enough to get to make dances on them.

I know I said I left my heart in Portland in my last blog, and I meant it.  It’s still there.  And I look forward to the next time I get to visit it to see more beautiful art created by choreographers who Ms. Slipper brings in to collaborate with her company.  And as always, I can’t wait to see what else Mr. Rustem has in store for this company because it really is a match made in heaven!

I hate that there isn’t an opportunity for you to go see this show, but trust me, if you can make the trip to Portland to see this company, please do!  And if you want to go with me next time, shoot me a note and let’s go see it together!

559112_332957660122406_1191550343_nBravo to NW Dance Project for the brilliant art you create!  I can’t wait to see you all
again soon.

Ciao for now,

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Le Sigh – Romeo et Juliette at Pacific Northwest Ballet

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

Ok, so I went to the ballet on Friday night.  The classical ballet company here in Seattle, Pacific Northwest Ballet, to see the ballet version of one of my favorite stories of all time: Romeo and Juliet.  Although, when purchasing tickets, I was quite surprised to see the title written in a French version of Romeo et Juliette, and that should have been my first clue that this would not be the story I know and love.  But my dumbass ignored that sign, and went to McCaw Hall expecting to be taken on an emotion filled journey of love and tragedy as only the two young lovers conjured out of Shakespeare’s imagination could take me.  And oh, how disappointed I was.

This piece takes place in two acts, with one intermission and a pause halfway through the second act.  FYI, there will be spoiler alerts to both story and design, so if you plan to go see this monstrosity to form your own opinion and want to be surprised, then stop reading now.

Anyway, back to this show, so the first act started out all kinds of weird.  Friar Laurence, danced by Miles Pertl starts the show with two acolytes dancing with him and starts the show as if remembering the story of Romeo et Juliette, with odd, jarring choreography that didn’t sit well on Mr. Pertl’s body.  One of the acolytes danced much stronger than him, so the casting seemed off right out the gate.

Then we move in to the street scene to introduce our hero, his two buddies Mercutio and Benvolio, as well as the antagonist, Tybalt.  This scene followed the standard story with the Capulets and Montagues picking at each other and provoking each other.  Although, in the dance world this was shown mostly through sad, pathetic shoving of each other.  Whether it was women shoving women, or men shoving men, the force of the shoves was laughable, the overacting of the ones being shoved made my eyes roll every time they ‘fell’ or ‘stumbled’, and yes I’m using quotes because it was that poorly acted.  There were no weapons to be seen on any of the men, no daggers or swords, which given the amount of falling down from everyone, I get that choice, but definitely foreshadowed problems to come within the story.

Romeo, danced by James Moore is introduced straight away, and while a beautiful man and a stunning dancer, I didn’t really feel a connection between him and his mates, although he did a nice job fawning over Rosaline, danced by Kylee Kitchens.  Although, Mercutio also seemed besotted with her, which isn’t part of the story, so that was odd to see. There was lots of shoving to get her attention, including from Tybalt who also seemed to be both protective of Rosaline as well as wanting her.  The choreography was uninteresting, repeats of steps over and over, and the energy seemed low for an opening night.  Ugh, just boring.

Eventually all the girl slapping and play fighting in the street ends, and we land in Juliette’s bedchamber where the Nurse, delightfully danced by Margaret Mullin was draped in the ugliest costume I’ve ever seen!  Ms. Mullin had wonderful acting chops, so she was somehow able to tell the story through this mammoth dress she was wearing, so good on her for that!  Couldn’t have been easy.

Here we meet the one who is supposed to be the leading lady of this show, Juliette, danced by the lovely Noelani Pantastico, and the actual leading lady of this show, Lady Capulet, danced by Laura Tisserand.  Seriously, Ms. Pantastico danced mere minutes in this entire scene compared to Lady Capulet, who had solo after solo in the opening scene.  Mama C slinked and slithered her sexy self around the stage, and I’m telling you, girlfriend didn’t know this show ain’t about her!

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Clearly the choreographer didn’t either, because the phrases created by Jean-Christophe Maillot let Ms. Tisserand dance foreeeeever throughout this scene, so I think he thinks this show is about Lady C as well.  Ugh.  Perhaps if they called it Lady Capulet, instead of Romeo et Juliette, I’d have liked it more!

Moving on, we get to the ball, the young lovers see each other, fall instantly in love, and try to continue to spend time together while party goers twist and turn about the stage getting in their way.  Tybalt, danced by Seth Orza, constantly interrupting, Mercutio, danced by Jonathan Porretta, constantly interrupting, and Rosaline just always kind of there creates the tension.  And how do they interrupt?  More shoving of course.  Bored!  So friggin bored!  And it went on forever!

And just when you think ok, we’re about to move on, nope Mama C is back on stage working her program with another solo.

Additionally, there were a lot of comedic moments in the whole first act, and it’s like, um, this is not a comedy.  It’s a tragic love story.  But there was a lot of sexual humor, the Nurse got it the worst.  A lot of groping of her breasts by Mercutio and Benvolio that made absolutely no sense whatsoever.  There was similar behavior towards the women in the street scenes.  I didn’t get it, it just didn’t fit.

So enter the famous balcony scene, and by balcony I mean ramp.  There was a ramp that they elevated one end to create the ‘balcony’.  I didn’t hate this choice, but Romeo could actually reach Juliette, so it definitely didn’t create the feel that moment is supposed to have.  And finally the tragedy of the show reveals itself in the chemistry between Mr. Moore and Ms. Pantastico.  They had none.  Zero. Zilch.  I mean, both danced the show beautifully but I didn’t buy the relationship at all and could not connect to their journey at all.  Juliette had more chemistry with the Friar during their pas de deux than she did with Romeo.  Also, there was a lot more push and pull with these two, and in order for them to even get to the first kiss Juliette had to grab Romeo’s face and plant one on him, and even then he pulls away at first.  It was just weird all around.

We need to get to the wedding, and I can’t remember if this next part happened before or after the wedding, but I think before, but anyway, some genius decided to toss a puppet show in the middle of the ballet.  So, all the dancers in the street take a seat and watch a puppet show that literally tells the entire story of Romeo and Juliette all the way to everyone being dead.  Why?  Why was this necessary?  Why take up about 10mins or more on this stupid puppet show.  By this point, I’m so irritated, I can’t even tell you.

We eventually get to the wedding, and the Friar and acolytes are back, and the lack of chemistry still abounds between the young lovers.  They marry secretly, end up in the finally going to have some sex scene, and again, rather than let the audience into an honest, innocent moment of passion and connection, right as the young lovers sit on the triangular platform this is to be their marriage bed, they both sit up straight stare out at the audience, gasp as if they can see us, and quickly pull the covers up over their heads like a pair of 6 year olds at a slumber party.  Kill me now.

So the wedding has happened, and the dance goes on, blah blah blah, and we come to the scene where Mercutio and Tybalt die.  I’m thinking, how is this going to happen because again, there are no weapons anywhere in sight. Is Tybalt going to shove Mercutio to death?  The puppet show had a blunt bat like object, but that has yet to appear.  And just like that, the cast starts moving slow motion.  A random Capulet tosses Tybalt a blunt bat like object, and he hits Mercutio on the side of the head, killing him instantly.  Mmmmmkay, yeah, tough to suspend my disbelief on that one.  We continue in slow motion.  Romeo collapses onto Mercutio, giving silent scream after silent scream.  Seriously, there’s more passion in those screams from Romeo as he cradles Mercutio in his arms than any kiss he gave Juliette, just sayin’.

Eventually the silent screaming stops, and Romeo rushes for Tybalt.  And by rushes I mean moves in slow motion to chase him across the stage and up the ramp that used to be Juliette’s balcony.  He catches him mid-ramp, and gets him on his back and as his hands wrap around Tybalt’s neck, everything speeds up to normal speed and Romeo chokes the life out of Tybalt.  This is the most brutal, violent slaying of Tybalt I’ve ever seen in any production of R&J I’ve ever seen either as a play or as a ballet.  It was raw and gruesome, and given how boring the rest of the show was up to this point, I was ecstatic!  I truly believed Mr. Moore in that moment of passionate rage.  It was well staged and beautifully acted by both men, and it was great.  It is also the last of my compliments.

Guess who arrives on the scene to have her own set of silent screams?  Yep, Mama C is back, stealing any spotlight possible, and she was so in her moment, that when the music stopped, and she’s being dragged away from Tybalt’s body, you could hear her wailing.  And people, I was in the first balcony and could hear her.  It’s a ballet, girl, everything is supposed to be silent.  I applaud being in the moment, but get it together!

Let’s fast forward through a bit: Juliet finds out about Tybalt’s death, she’s mad at Romeo, he gets banished blah blah blah, she goes to the Friar for help, yadda yadda yadda, Friar has a plan, should include poison, it doesn’t, just some magic flick of his wrist or something, I don’t know, and poof! Juliette is ‘dead’ in the tomb.  And by tomb I mean another triangle shaped platform that is black, and she’s lying on it with her feet towards the bottom point.

Funeral processions starts, and Mama C arrives for another friggin solo.  Whipping her hair back and forth, milking the beautiful choreography, kicking her long stunning legs all over the place, without much acknowledgement of her daughter until the end.  She finally exits, and Romeo enters thinking Juliette’s dead.

Now, what should happen next , if they followed the story, is that Juliette appears dead, Romeo drinks potion to join her in death not knowing she’s only faking.  She wakes up, finds his ass dead, takes his dagger and stabs herself to join him in death.  That. Is. Not. What. Happened. Next.

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Instead, after more silent screaming by Romeo (Mr. Moore is quite good at these by the way), he eventually slowly backs away from Juliette all the way to the very corner of the downstage right side of the stage.  He’s so far down, he’s standing in the dark.  The music stops, and I’m thinking, “What the fuck is he doing?”  And suddenly the timpani drums begin to beat and this boy, with all the grace of a gazelle takes off running towards Juliette’s platform grave and friggin slides, penguin style sliding into the point of the triangle of the platform and impales himself and dies instantly on impact.

Yep, you read that right, I’ll give you a second to reread it to make sure you weren’t hallucinating.  The boy impaled himself on the set, people!!  Penguin style slide suicide! On the corner of that triangle in the pic above!  It happened!  And it was so stupid!  WTF?!?!?

And when that happened I though to myself, “Self…if he died by triangle platform set piece, how the hell is she going to die?  Cuz boyfriend does not have a dagger for her to have her ‘oh, happy dagger’ moment.”  Careful what you ask.

This chick wakes up, sees Romeo there on his face, impaled on the platform, rolls him off of it, pulls a piece of red fabric from what i can only guess is his dance belt, and pulls it up and away from him only to go upstage of him on the triangle platform, and strangle herself with the red fabric that, where it’s strategically placed looks like she’s choking herself out with Romeo’s lower intestine.  And the curtain drops.

I can’t.

I don’t know what I saw, but it was not good.  I was not entertained.  I was confused most of the time.  I was irritated by the costumes, the hideous, god awful costumes.  The set was creative and I didn’t mind the simplicity of it, but when Romeo impaled himself, penguin style, on to it, I just lost all respect for the creative team with the liberties they took with a pretty straight forward, hauntingly beautiful story.

My +1 for the night, not my beloved Random, but another friend said “I thought Romeo and Juliet was supposed to be sad.  That was trying to be funny, and instead was just laughably bad.”  I couldn’t agree more.

Shakespeare’s masterpiece ends with this line:  Never was there a tale of more woe than that of Juliet and her Romeo.  Well, for this ballet, I rewrite to say: Never was there a bigger miss and lie than PNB’s Romeo et Juliette…Le Sigh.

I give this a don’t even bother unless you want to see the story of Lady Capulet’s fantastic kicks, and laugh at the ridiculousness of Romeo impaling himself on a set piece and Juliette strangling herself with his lower intestine.  Other than those three moments, it was a waste of my time.

Ciao for now,

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Genius in Triplicate: IN-spired at Whim W’Him

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

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.

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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!

unnamed-21With 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

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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.

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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.

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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!!

WWDCOW4IN-spired runs Jan 22-30, and showtimes and ticket information can be found on Whim W’Him’s website.

Ciao for now,

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All Photos courtesy of Bamberg Fine Art

I Left My Heart in Portland! A Review: NW Dance Project’s NEW NOW WOW

Dance Review

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What do you get when you take a company of phenomenally talented dancers, add three brilliant choreographers, and a visionary artistic director?  Why, you get art, in it’s purest, most beautiful form.  And art this elegant, this radiant, and this exquisite simply took my breath away from the first isolation to the final stunning pose. Where, might you wonder, can one experience such art?  Why a quick three hours or so drive south, in Portland, Oregon, at NW Dance Project!

My incentive to make the trek to Portland to see this company perform was solely based on my desire to see more of the masterful maestro of dance, Ihsan Rustem’s choreography.  You’ll remember I saw Mr. Rustem’s work on Whim W’Him for their Choreographic Shindig back in September, and was so enamored with his movement, I simply had to see what else he’d been up to since I saw him last.  We’ll get to Mr. Rustem’s piece in a moment, but first, let me talk about this company of dancers.

Under the Artistic Direction of Sarah Slipper, this company is made up of power and beauty and grace all blending together within each stunning dancer.  The control on these dancers to move, contort, and stretch their bodies was mesmerizing to behold.  Each uniquely different than the next, they somehow compliment each other as if they’d spent their entire lives dancing together.  This being my first experience with NW Dance Project, I instantly felt connected to their vision, their work, because this company of dancers have a magnetism that draws you in, and delicately, yet passionately invites you to stay.

Company in Jiří Pokorný's

Company in Jiří Pokorný’s “The Presence of Absence” (minus Samantha Campbell and Franco Nieto) (World Premiere)
Photo Credit: Blaine Truitt Covert

The first piece in this trio of brilliance was created by Choreographer,  Jiří Pokorný, and is titled The Presence of Absence.  This was the world premier of this piece and it captivated me from the first move.  One solo dancer in a warm golden spot light began isolations, so smooth and precise, I felt each of her movements.  In her own world, oblivious to the group of dancers just off to her right, moving and shifting as one, creating picture after picture, each filled with nuance and humor.  This piece explored all elements of absence, from company members entering and exiting the piece, to light shining and dimming over this eclectic movement, to the music blasting and going silent, leaving only the dancers breath as their rhythmic guide.  It was haunting and stunning at the same time, and it set the tone for a very grand and creative night of performance art.

Ching Ching Wong, Elijah Labay, Lindsey McGill, Kody Jauron in Felix Landerer's

Ching Ching Wong, Elijah Labay, Lindsey McGill, Kody Jauron in Felix Landerer’s “What We’ve Lost on the Way” (World Premiere)
Photo Credit: Blaine Truitt Covert

After a brief pause, and a breath for the company, they came out with a fire and command of their stage in a piece titled What We’ve Lost on the Way by the ingenious choreographer, Felix Landerer.  Mr. Landerer’s piece featured four dancers: Kody Jauron, Elijah Labay, Lindsey McGill and Ching Ching Wong. These four, just through walking a straight, powerful path downstage, then upstage, then downstage again, all in their own lanes, slowly converge on each other, and the audience isn’t sure if this is competition or cooperation, and I loved it!  The sheer force of the commitment to movement as simple as walking elevated it to an art form full of complexity that blew my mind!  With the pulsating music by Christof Littmann daring your heart to beat along with it, the company splits off into enigmatic duos and solos that simply stole my breath!  Mr. Labay, in particular, had a solo, dancing right on the edge of the light, draped in a muted jewel toned purple shirt that reflected and hid Mr. Landerer’s stunning movement with a sensuality and quiet power that captured my heart, enflamed my soul, and well, I’ve never wanted to be a purple shirt so badly in my life!  This powerful world premier physically embodied a graceful power like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The ability of the company to commit to this movement so completely, had me on the edge of my seat watching each individual journey of the dancers to find their place in this emulous world, so when the fifth company member, Julia Radick, joined the dance moments before the end, literally replacing Ms. McGill, showing her as what they lost along the way, I was shocked and awed, and then the blackout happened and it was over!  What?!?!  No!  What happens next?!?!  Pure drama!  Loved it!  Bravo!

Insan Rustem, Resident Choreographer, NW Dance Project

Insan Rustem, Resident Choreographer, NW Dance Project

Now, finally, after a very delicious first two acts, the piece I drove 3.5 hours for was finally here!  Mother Tongue by the beautiful and brilliant Ihsan Rustem began, and from the first breath of the dancer before the first movement in the opening phrase, Mr. Rustem ignited the flame within my dancer’s heart. One of my favorite things about Mr. Rustem’s choreography is that, good lord, can he fill a count of music! No beat or nuance of music is left unexplored or unused, and I adore the complex grace of his movement, and Mother Tongue had this in spades!

Viktor Usov (Kody Jauron in back) in Ihsan Rustem's

Viktor Usov (Kody Jauron in back) in Ihsan Rustem’s “Mother Tongue”
Photo Credit: Blaine Truitt Covert

Viktor Usov, in an epic opening solo, commanded the floor and took possession of all of my senses with his controlled, yet exquisitely organic-feeling interpretation of Mr. Rustem’s choreography. A combination of air and ground, Mr. Rustem’s opening phrase took his dancer on a powerful journey. As the rest of the company joined Mr. Usov, they all entered from various places behind the mid-curtain, which had a stunning light orange/golden light hiding behind it.  When revealed, it created silhouettes of the dancers entering or exiting Mr. Usov’s journey, and it gave hints of a warmth to come.

Mr. Rustem has a ridiculous talent for utilizing the entire space he choreographs within, not limiting himself to the dance space we can see.  The beauty of this is that elements like curtains, lighting, and effects elevate from elements of a piece to an additional character within the piece.  The curtain, this dark veil, hiding the warmth of the light from the dancers created an ache in me for the dancers.  I so badly wanted the curtain to lift and shed light on the gorgeous journey Mr. Usov was taking.  And when my wish was granted, and the curtain did lift, it revealed a ethereal ice-white and golden glow, that gave way to the company dancing in silhouette, finally blending Mr. Usov with the rest of the company. As the conclusion of this moving story drew near, a shower of black confetti rained down as Mr. Usov danced the final phrase with his company looking on.  Dressed in simple black pants and nothing else, the confetti stuck to Mr. Usov in a way that brought tears to my eyes.  It was as if this world he’d been struggling with finally became a part of him, as he allowed it to embody him while he danced.  The final moment of this piece, this breathtakingly beautiful piece, will forever hold a place in my heart.  Thank you, Mr. Rustem, and the NW Dance Project Company for the experience of Mother Tongue.  I will never forget it, and am so much the better for having experienced it.  Thank you!

Sadly, this beautiful trio of dance perfection closed last Saturday.  However, Mr. Rustem is the resident choreographer for NW Dance Project, so you can bet your ass I will be driving to Portland for the rest of their season, and I think you should all join me!  I’ll keep you posted as new shows are coming up, but please, go check out NW Dance Project’s website for more information on the artistic team, choreographers, and dancers, as well as upcoming show information.

While I had to return to Seattle, I left my heart in Portland with this stunning dance company, and will be counting the days until I get to see them perform again.  Bravo to the entire company, creative teams, choreographers and crew.  This truly was New, Now and WOW!

I give this a thunderous standing ovation!  Thank you!! BRAVO!!559112_332957660122406_1191550343_n

Ciao for now,

M lg

Photos courtesy of NW Dance Project and Ihsan Rustem.

Olivier Wevers’ Midsummer: A Magical Combination of Wit, Whimsy and Wonder

Dance Review

When art transcends one medium into another, it’s always a wonder to behold.  Tonight, one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was reinvented as a contemporary ballet choreographed by the incomparable Olivier Wevers on the Grand Rapids Ballet Company, and it truly was a vision to behold.

Olivier Wevers, Choreographer and Artistic Director of Whim W'Him Dance Company

Olivier Wevers, Choreographer and Artistic Director of Whim W’Him Dance Company

The Bard’s complex comedy has been done in dance form before, but never like this.  Never with the wit and whimsy that Mr. Wevers brought to this story, taking, as he said in the post-show talk-back panel, a very personal approach to the concept.  As a boy, Mr. Wevers was a dreamer, a lover of books, and would escape into his imagination.  He parlayed that youth, that innocence, into this story through the eyes of the little changeling boy who the Fairy King and Queen fight over in the story.

“Olivier is classically trained, but he has his eye on the future of dance.”

~Patricia Barker, Artistic Director, Grand Rapids Ballet

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

As I stated in my promotional piece on Grand Rapids Ballet’s arrival in Seattle under the direction of Artistic Director, Patricia Barker, this changeling boy is often lost in the stage productions of this show, as he has no lines and minimal presence, other than as a possession the King and Queen of the Fairies want for themselves.  It would be very difficult to give him any more depth, let alone a voice, without rewriting the Bard, and who would dare to do such a thing?  However, with dance, you could give him an identity, a name, and most importantly, a perspective on this lovable, fun-filled story, and it’s that creative vision that Mr. Wevers used to take the audience on a mischievous journey through a dream on a midsummer’s night told through the eyes of an eight year old boy.

These characters are all exquisitely brought to life by the amazing talent of the Grand Rapids Ballet dancers, all equally brilliant in the way they interpret Mr. Wevers’ choreography.  In a style I’ve come to love from watching Mr. Wevers’ Seattle based dance company Whim W’Him perform his work, there is a lot of movement filling each count, combining to make dynamic and fluid phrases that are simply breathtaking in their complexity and beauty.  These dancers made each movement from the flick of a wrist, to a complicated lift look effortless, and embraced the choreography as if they were born to dance it.

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Mr. Wevers played with shapes, specifically lines and circles, both in his formations as well as specific movement with the fairies, and it was a whirling dervish regale that left my mind spun in the most delicious way. His partner work created on the four lovers was like watching a kaleidoscope of colors, weaving and twisting, challenging the dancers with a mosaic of direction changes, which all four danced with expert grace.  The corps of fairies and the lovers were
absolutely stunning to watch, and did a beautiful job creating, shifting, and changing this dream land of the young boy.  I was awed and impressed.

The lead roles of Fairy King Oberon and Fairy Queen Titania were danced beautifully by Nicholas Schultz and Yuka Oba, respectively.  Not only are these two impeccably gorgeous dancers with a skill and precision that are the perfect canvas for Mr. Wevers’ choreography, but they are fantastic actors as well!  Mr. Schultz, so laser focused on Oberon’s goal of getting what he wants, unwavering in his mission to take the boy from Titania, was a superb mix of control freak and master manipulator.  He truly ruled the stage, and every time he hit, what I will forever call the Oberon Vogue Pose, I got goosebumps from the power he threw out over the footlights.

Titania, performed by Yuka Oba and Oberon, performed by Nicholas Schultz

Titania, performed by Yuka Oba and Oberon, performed by Nicholas Schultz                                    Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

And for all of Oberon’s power, Titania’s fire and sass are the perfect match for him.  Ms. Oba is one of the most beautiful dancers I’ve seen dance in years!  She’s so committed to her character, so natural in her movement, and her ability to shift from doting mother to aroused lover was done seamlessly and yet with a quiet power all her own.  She’s one fierce dancer who went step for step with Mr. Schultz, and I can’t imagine how wonderful it was for Mr. Wevers to have these two anchor his story in such a magnificent way!

“I love Nicholas and Yuka, I would choreograph them all the time if I could!”

~Olivier Wevers, Choreographer and Artistic Director, Whim W’Him Dance Company

1293_7718These two phenomenal dancers do a pas de deux towards the end of the ballet, and people, it took my breath away, it was so stunning.  The push and pull that Mr. Wevers created between these two was art in its purest form.  There was grace, there was beauty, there was power, and there was discovery.  It was as if this royal couple were dancing this dance for the first time, reminding each other what they loved about each other, even reminding each other what frustrates them about the other, and yet refusing to give up.  They fight through the moments, that I’m guessing any set of soul mates face in a complicated relationship.  All of that raw emotional discovery was rolled into this dance.  Thank you, Mr. Wevers, for being brave enough to create this moment, and thank you Mr. Schultz and Ms. Oba for bringing this exquisitely real moment to life.  It was absolutely beautiful.

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Lastly, I must mention the mischief-making comic apex of this story that everyone knows: Puck.  The curious, ornery fairy who rarely follows direction correctly, and whose playfulness drives the play along, was delightfully played by Matt Wenckowski.  He fully committed to the character, jumped and hopped all over the set, slipping and sliding through the world leaving chaotic humor in his wake.  Dancing along the veil between the fairy world and the human world, Mr. Wenckowski was a delightful sprite who had me giggling at his merriment throughout the show.  And what this boy can do with a fog gun, I’m just saying, that alone should make you go see this!  Hysterical!

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Mr. Wevers’ full concept, including the design elements, created a beautiful white world for which the fairies and humans could play upon, giving me the feel of being inside the pages of one of the boy’s books.  Ingenious set pieces that move and slide around the stage, morphing and changing like a live game of Tetris, stunning costumes designed by Patricia Barker, Artistic Director of Grand Rapids Ballet, and the brilliant lighting of Michael Mazzola (Seriously, his lighting is some of the best I’ve ever seen, and I hope he continues to light Mr. Wevers dances for years to come!) came together as the perfect trifecta of creative genius.

Although, my favorite design element was the variety of footwear on the entire company for this piece.  The Fairies, all dancing in socks, the human lovers in ballet shoes (the girls in toe shoes), and the silly characters in street shoes (adult Nick Bottom and his political entourage in dress shoes and Puck in white Keds looking tennis shoes).  This variety added a depth and complexity that heightened the hilarious pandemonium going on in this world, and I found the choices absolutely inspired.

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Photo by Bamberg Fine Art Photography

Visually stunning, brilliantly choreographed, and beautifully danced, this Midsummer is a witty, whimsical, and wonderful contemporary twist on a beloved tale.  Please give yourself the gift of seeing this show.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays for two more nights at the Cornish Playhouse in Seattle Center.  Tickets and show information can be found here.

I give this a thunderous applause, and a resounding Bravo!

Congratulations to Mr. Wevers on his first full length, story-driven ballet created on Grand Rapids Ballet.  I have a feeling we’ll see this pairing again in the future, and I for one, can’t wait to see what they do next!

Ciao for now,

M lg

Photos by Bamberg Fine Art Photography, Courtesy of Olivier Wevers

Whim W’him 2015 Choreographic Shindig: A Three Course Feast for All the Senses

Dance Review, Dance Show Promotional

It’s a complete understatement to say that I’ve been eagerly awaiting the opening of Whim W’Him’s 2015 Choreographic Shindig after experiencing the magic of watching the company rehearse for this production. I’ve been shivering with anticipation to have a new experience, the likes of which only Whim W’him can provide.  It was like being invited to a dinner party at an good friend’s house who is a phenomenal chef in their own right.  You’ve dined with them numerous times before, and are always excited to be extended an invitation, because you know the meal will be exquisite.  Yet, this time, your friend and host lets you know they’ve hired three new chefs who have prepared a feast you’ll not soon forget, igniting excitement and curiosity at a totally new experience in a familiar setting.  Only, the host is Artistic Director, Olivier Wevers, and the three new chefs are a trio of choreographers chosen by the company to come create a feast of originality and ingenuity just for you, and it will entice and arouse your senses in the most delicious way!

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Image: Molly Magee of Bamberg Fine Art Choreography: Joshua L. Peugh Dancers: Jim Kent, Mia Monteabaro, Tory Peil, Thomas Phelan, and Lara Seefedlt

The appetizer, if you will, is presented by Joshua L. Peugh.  You’ll remember I got a taste of Mr. Peugh’s brilliance when I was invited to watch one of his rehearsals. It was at that rehearsal where Mr. Peugh landed on the name of his piece: Short Acts on the Heartstrings, and my heartstrings couldn’t agree more!  Seeing this piece in its final form, complete with costumes and lighting took my breath away.  White tuxedos and Cotton Candy Green flowing dresses twirled and whirled around the stage, creating light and happiness straight into the audience!  It’s akin to sampling various amuse-bouche where sweetness and freshness brings delight and joy, followed by a hint of heat which sneaks up on you, and the slow, delectable burn of spices tickles your senses, opening up your palate for the flavors yet to come.  That’s how Heartstrings affected me.  Light and funny one moment, deep and connected the next, with pops of unexpected heat that had me craving more!  Of all the fantastic phrases throughout this piece, there are two duets that simply stole my breath.  One was with Kyle Johnson and Tori Peil, and the other was with Kyle Johnson and Justin Reiter.  The beauty of these couples performing the movement created by Mr. Peugh was stunning to behold.  I laughed. I sighed (the kind of sighs you give when you watch a happy ending to a fabulous RomCom). I enjoyed every minute of being transported back to the, as I described before, a Mad Men meets Pulp Fiction dinner party hosted by Rosemary Clooney.  Pulled on the heartstrings for sure, and set the unbelievably beautiful tone for the evening.

The second course, if you’ll continue to indulge the metaphor, was a rich and meaty creation by Maurya Kerr titled into the wide welcome.  Although, I found myself adding “or not” onto the end of the title, because this piece took the Whim W’him company through a formidable physical expression of emotion that was less than welcoming.  None of the six dancers in this piece were spared a heightened emotional journey that, to me, showed the constant human need for contact, often with someone who is unhealthy for you.  The design elements added to the impassioned voice of Ms. Kerr as she weaved and threaded the dancers around each other.  All dancers dressed in shades of grey, the lights a harsh grey-white, and I’m not sure if it was part of the choreography, but when the air conditioner kicked on right as the pace of the piece accelerated and the music piped in, I swear, I was transported right into the middle of someone’s icy cold heart.  And I loved it!

Image: Molly Magee of Bamberg Fine Art Choreography: Maurya Kerr Dancers: Kyle Johnson and Tory Peil

Image: Molly Magee of Bamberg Fine Art
Choreography: Maurya Kerr
Dancers: Kyle Johnson and Tory Peil

Again, Mr. Johnson and Ms. Peil had my favorite sections of this piece, my heart aching for them as they struggled with their want for each other, yet never finding comfort in the contact for long!  With every frantic separation, my heart broke for them, and tears rolled down my cheeks.  The final section, all six dancers moving as one, creating a new pulse in the room.  Like a human chest compression, slowly and methodically easing life back into the room.  Creating heat and breath, where there was none before.  It’s one hell of a journey, and I hope all of you will give yourself the gift of experiencing it.

With the palate tantalizing appetizer and complex filling main course complete, that left room for the final course; a luscious, sinful dessert created by the incomparable Ihsan Rustem.  The piece titled The Road to Here was mouth-watering from the first move.  Seductive lines, provocative pictures, and sensual music pulled me, and everyone around me into Mr. Rustem’s hypnotic rhythms.  All seven company members shifted and

Image: Molly Magee of Bamberg Fine Art Choreography: Ihsan Rustem Dancers: Justin Reiter, Thomas Phelan, Tory Peil, Kyle Johnson, Mia Monteabaro, Lara Seefedlt, and Jim Kent

Image: Molly Magee of Bamberg Fine Art
Choreography: Ihsan Rustem
Dancers: Justin Reiter, Thomas Phelan, Tory Peil, Kyle Johnson, Mia Monteabaro, Lara Seefedlt, and Jim Kent

moved from one divine phrase to the next as if they were made of water. The company was audibly breathing as one unit, and I found my own breath catching with every new titillating movement.  Mr. Rustem’s use of the entire space was fiercely brilliant, with a deliciously devilish surprise half way through that I won’t say any more about, because you MUST experience it for yourself! Let’s just say it’s the cherry on top of a decadent experience you don’t want to miss.  From start to finish I was on the edge of my seat watching this piece, savoring every morsel Mr. Rustem provided.  When it was over, I was both satiated and satisfied, and I highly suggest you go get a taste for yourself!

I also want to take a moment to applaud the lighting designer for the Shindig, Mr. Michael Mazzola.  Mr. Mazzola’s designs for these three unique and powerful pieces were absolute perfection!  The warm, angelic glow for Mr. Peugh, the cold frigid wash for Ms. Kerr, and the seductive vibrancy for Mr. Rustem were all at a level of mastery that matched the vision of each piece brilliantly.  Bravo!

My hat is off to the ingenuity of Mr. Wevers and the unbelievably open way he runs his company.  Encouraging and championing his company members to grow as true artists, and allowing them the opportunity to choose the choreographers for this Shindig is truly inspired. Mr. Wevers said in the Q&A after the show that his goal for Whim W’him was to create a company where artists can flourish and grow, and I’d say the 2015 Choreographic Shindig proves that his goal has been beautifully and exquisitely achieved.  With selfless vision like that, Whim W’him has a very bright future ahead.

With every new experience, my respect for this dance company grows.  I’m definitely a Whimmer now, and a very proud season subscriber.  My hat is off to the entire company, the choreographers, and the designers of the 2015 Choreographic Shindig.  It was a resounding success, and I am definitely the better for having experienced it.

This gets a resounding Bravo, and a standing ovation!  Congratulations!

The Choreographic Shindig has five more performances at the Erickson unnamedTheatre Off Broadway in Capital Hill:

  • September 13 (today!) at 5pm
  • September 16, 17, 18 and 19 at 8pm

Tickets can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets.

Ciao for now,

M lg