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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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

Whim W’Him Presents X-POSED in Seattle, WA

Entertainment Review

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My first love is dance.  I began studying around the age of five, and fell in love with movement.  And even though my dance training gave way to gymnastics, and eventually acting, my love of dance has never faltered.  I love all styles, and am mesmerized by original and powerful choreography, most of which I see on television shows like So You Think You Can Dance and documentaries about dance companies.  It had been so very long since I had seen good, inventive choreography in person.  That is, until I discovered Whim W’him.

My first encounter with Whim W’him was back in January 2015. I was invited by a friend to join her for their THREEFOLD performance to support a friend of hers who is in the company.  Having never heard of Whim W’him before, I did my research before accepting the invitation.  And immediately upon clicking on the ‘About the Company’ link on the website, two words gave me all I needed to know that I would definitely attend the show.  Those two words were:  Olivier Wevers.  I watched Mr. Wevers for years with the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and was always moved by his performances.  Even small solos in his first year with the company left an impression on me.  I never forgot his name.  So to find out that he is the Artistic Director of Whim W’him, well, I had to find out what his new company was all about.

I attended THREEFOLD and was so impressed by the three pieces the company performed, that I purchased tickets for X-POSED the minute they went on sale.  The only disappointment was it was five full months before I could see Whim W’him perform again.  But I waited, and counted the days, and on May 30th, along with two friends, I took my seat in the Cornish Playhouse in Seattle Center with excitement of knowing I was going to see a good show.  But what I got, was so very much more.

The show opened with a piece called RIPple efFECT, choreographed by10698665_10155628294300035_6475480424128512352_n Manuel Vignoulle.  This piece was a fractured yet fluid contradiction of movement.  The seven company members both pushed against and moved with each other in interesting shapes and levels.  One dancer, Tory Peil, the tallest woman in the company stood atop the shoulders of two other company members, creating a dizzying height to watch from the audience, and continued the spastic, searching movement that both tingled and confused the senses in the most delicious way.  I found myself experiencing anxiety and stress watching the dancers, like watching a suspense film and desperately wanting the hero and 078-Bamberg-Fine-Art-RIPple-efFECT-XLheroine to escape whatever is chasing them r holding them captive.  And just when one or more of the company members would find themselves breaking away from the group, the group117-Bamberg-Fine-Art-RIPple-efFECT-X2 would grab hold and pull the dancer back in the most jarring way creating horizontal pictures of tension, and
the next thing you knew another fascinating vertical shape would be created as they all moved as one.  This choreography was eclectic, volatile, and extremely creative.

The second piece was called Black Heart (in the program was listed with an actual black heart and no words), choreographed by Kate Wallich and featured all seven of the company members.  This piece, oh this piece, moved me in ways I was not ready for and brought out emotions I was not prepared to show and it was glorious!  Ms. Wallich’s movement in this piece was dark, tumultuous and at times, heart wrenching!  Described in the program as “a cacophony of choreography in four parts” is a brilliant description.  And of the four parts, there were two where, once again, Ms. Peil stood out amongst her colleagues, which, trust me, is hard to do in a  company with this much talent.  But Ms. Peil took me on an emotional journey I won’t soon forget.

The costumes in this piece, done by Black Magenta, were stunning all 394-Bamberg-Fine-Art-Black-Heart-X2around, but Ms. Peil’s costumes brought out a whole other level to the story for me. She started in a pair of black tights with a white billowy sheer blouse that showed a black bra beneath.  I point out this costume, because it was such a contrast to all the dark the rest of the company was wearing.  It was the only light piece in an otherwise dark world. And the movement Ms. Wallich gave Ms. Peil added to the contrast.  I found my eyes drawn to her, no matter how I tried to enjoy all the other amazing movements going on by the other company members.  And when the company transitioned to the next part, suddenly Ms. Peil removed the blouse, to now only be wearing black like the rest of the company, and they all moved into a story that will forever hold a place in this dancer lover’s heart.

Three of the men paired off with the three women to create some intricate contemporary partner work, to eventually land all three of the women, and one of the men, expertly danced by Jim Kent, on the floor, lying on their sides, resting back on one elbow, with the other hand rhythmically drumming on their thigh in an invitation, yet the energy from all four was one of empty emotion and dread, and not sensuality, even though the body placement was overtly sensual.  The next moment, the other three men would come and drag the women back, upstage in awkward and somewhat vicious choreography, only to bring them back and lay them back on the floor where the women would resume the sensual position, their hands returning to drumming their thighs suggestively.  This went on and on, andeach time the women were laid on the floor, their energy seemed more and more vacant and emotionless.  And then suddenly, two of the men, Kyle Johnson and Thomas Phelan (pictured) grabbed Ms. Peil at the same time and slung her back, dancing a pas des trios that was filled with innuendo and dark emotion.  These three exceptionally skilled dancers created a moment for me that broke my heart, and yet I could not look away. Her limp body being moved wherever the men positioned her brought tears to my eyes and I found myself silently crying out for it all to stop, and yet was so moved by the dark beauty of what I was watching.

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After this moment was over, and Mr. Johnson and Mr. Phelan laid Ms. Peil on the floor for the last time, the three women took their time standing and walking away from the scene, allowing me to see that Mr. Kent had yet to move from his position of drumming his thigh with his hand, and just when I feared that next would be his turn, Justin Reiter, picked up Mr. Kent, and as if to save him from the fate the women suffered, took him off in a loving embrace that allowed me to take a full breath since this part started.  The tender choreography that followed this had me instantly hearing Lovely Ladies from Les Miserables in my head.  Now, perhaps this isn’t what Ms. Wallich intended at all from her choreography, and I’m projecting my own thoughts on this performance that are a galaxy away from what was intended.  But Ms. Wallich, and the seven company members moved me through an emotional journey that was both dark and lovely at the same time, and is a performance I will never forget.

And when the lights came on and they set up for the final piece, I wasn’t sure that my heart could take much more after the tailspin Ms. Wallich took me on, but little was I to know that in a few short minutes I was going to witness a complete choreography masterpiece from Mr. Wevers, himself.  The final piece was called Alone is the Devil and Mr. Wevers featured Mr. Kent as the solitary human being pushed and manipulated around the floor by the other six company members who were phantoms tempting him with the seven deadly sins.  And people, there are not words for how powerful this piece was, but I will do my best.

In a world where so many things are at our fingertips, everything available at lightning speed through the internet, a phone app, or even a drive thru restaurant, and never truly needing another person to satiate the cravings we all have for Vanity, Lust, Sloth, Greed, Anger, Gluttony and Envy.  Mr. Kent was stunning, again dancing in an all white costume against the phenomenally designed black phantom costumes for the rest of the company, complete with stockings over the face of each of them, stunningly created by Mark Zappone.  619-Bamberg-Fine-Art-Alone-is-the-devil-X2Each dancer in this company is so distinctive, but the minute their faces were covered, it really was difficult to discern who was who, and I found that absolutely mesmerizing.  Mr. Reiter, for example, always stands out to me, and I couldn’t pick him out of the mob.  The beauty of it was it forced me to focus solely on Mr. Kent and the journey he took facing each sin.

Sloth, Greed and Anger blurred for me a bit, but Vanity, oh sweet, beautiful, 11407020_10155644996390035_155476706522849228_nvanity came through the use of a mirror on wheels that the phantoms expertly moved through the space, and Mr. Wevers choreography gave Mr. Kent a perfect vehicle for getting sucked into his own image and then feeling the shattering impact when the phantoms destroyed the mirror.  The special effect of the mirror was one I won’t soon forget.  And just when you think the mirror is no longer part of the show, the phantoms put it back together and Vanity transitioned erotically into Lust!  Lust was luscious, devious, and pushed boundaries of what I’ve seen in other dance shows in the most sensual, seductive and tantalizing way.  I was completely turned on by the images Mr. Wever and his company brought to life and just when I didn’t think I could take another moment of the erotic frolicking happening on that stage, they transitioned into Gluttony, and Gluttony broke my heart.

I know so many people battling obesity, myself included, and the way Gluttony was portrayed was by the use of fast food bags.  Starting out small, phantoms stuck them on Mr. Kent’s hands.  Then larger backs on top of those, large enough to engulf his hands and go up to his forearms.  Then larger bags came, and eventually a huge bag came that they put over his 569-Bamberg-Fine-Art-Alone-is-the-devil-XLhead, and the phantoms began to beat him around the stage with the bags, the sound of paper hitting Mr. Kent’s body was harrowing and heart wrenching, and he couldn’t see them, he couldn’t fight them, he was helpless to do anything against the danger Gluttony was doing to his physical being, and when they finally jumped off of him, all the paper bags, including the one from his head, were shoved into his tank top creating a very obese person, unhealthy from the Gluttony he’s been engaging in, and it was the saddest most terrifying moment and it literally took my breath away.

The piece ended with Mr. Kent turning in to a phantom and another company member, taking his place, showing that the cycle never ends.  Mr. Wevers created one of the most honest slices of life through art that I have ever seen, and it moved everyone in the audience.  How do I know?  Because when the piece ended, and the lights went out, there was that moment.  You know the one, right?  That delicious pause while everyone lets out the breath they’ve been holding and wraps their mind around the fact that the show is over and what they just saw was real and amazing.  And as the amazement kicks in, so do the applause.

It was not even a question but to jump to my feet in honor of the art I saw at Whim W’him’s latest show.  I wish it was still running so you all could go see it, because it was stellar, it was emotional, it was raw, it was honest, and it was brilliant all the way around.  This company has made a life long fan out of this reviewer, so much so, that I will be a season ticket member starting next season.

If you love dance, if you love creative expression, and if you love seeing true artists at the top of their craft, I highly encourage you to join me in becoming a season ticket subscriber for Whim W’him.  Information on ways to subscribe and donate can be found here.

They entertained my face off!  Loved it!  Adored it!  Can’t wait to see what they do next!! Bravo!

Ciao for now,

M sm

Press photos – Bamberg Fine Art