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

The Maestro at Work: A Visit to Whim W’Him

Dance Show Promotional, Entertainment Review

It’s always a good day when I get an email from my favorite Seattle based Dance Company, Whim W’Him, inviting me to come watch a rehearsal.  But it’s a friggin fantastic day when the choreographer I get to watch create at said rehearsal is none other than the Maestro, himself, Olivier Wevers, Artistic Director of Whim W’Him, as he prepares for WWDC’s next show IN-spired.

I was giddy for days leading up to getting to go watch Mr. Wevers work, because of all the pieces I’ve seen WWDC perform, the ones that felt the most natural on these dancers were created at the hands of Mr. Wevers.  As it should be, I think, when an Artistic Director creates a company in his vision.  Little balls of clay, if you will, for him to mold and sculpt into phrase after delicious phrase.  So, off to the Francia Russell Ballet Center I went, to watch the Maestro create.

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Olivier Wevers, Artistic Director, working with (L-R) Patrick Kilbane, Justin Reiter, and Tory Peil. 

And it was everything I’d hoped it would be and oh so very much more!  As I arrived, Mr. Wevers was on the floor, creating a phrase for Mia Monteabaro, and he moved like graceful lightening across the floor, twisting and contorting his body into interesting and complex shapes.  Ms. Monteabaro, dancing behind him, following along and imitating Mr. Wevers’ moves, barely a beat behind him, I swear, she was somehow reading his mind!  It was glorious!  I was such a big fan of Mr. Wevers during his career with the PNB, so watching him dance brought a bit of a tear to my eye and just set the tone for what was to be an absolutely wonderful day of dance.

So, for the next few fabulous hours, I sat and watched as Mr. Wevers continued to create. Cannoning his dancers on and off the stage, creating duets and trios twisting and turning around each other, designing lifts and splits which show off the strength and flexibility of the company had this dance lover’s mind spinning with glee!  And all to the delectable and delightful Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major, which seems to absolutely inspire Mr. Wevers, as every time he’d run the phrases with music, you could see his mind racing with new ideas and movement to try on his dancers.

 

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Olivier Wevers, Artistic Director, standing in for Tory Peil, in between Justin Reiter and Patrick Kilbane as they create his piece.

 

And speaking of the dancers, these seven talented balls of clay, they are the perfect medium for Mr. Wevers’ art.  Changes to the company have happened since last I saw WWDC in September, and now there are five gorgeous men and two stunning women making up the company.  The addition of Patrick Kilbane (the legs and feet on this guy, I can’t even tell you!  #SquatGoals like you wouldn’t believe!) is a seamless change within this company as his power and strength fit right in with the talents of the six I’ve already come to know and adore!  Kyle Matthew Johnson, Thomas Phelan and Tory Peil dance one of my favorite phrases that I saw that day, partnering together so beautifully!  Ms. Monteabaro and Jim Kent also have a lovely duet section that was gracefully fluid and dynamic at the same time.  And Justin Reiter, the little chameleon that he is, flawlessly gliding between phrases whether mirroring or partnering, taking my breath away like he always does!  Getting to see these seven artists work together to bring Mr. Wevers vision to life was an experience I won’t soon forget.

The last rehearsal I saw back in September was more of a run-through of a completed piece.  But this time, I truly was immersed in their process to create, and damn, do they work hard!  As a former jazz dancer, I have no idea how contemporary dancers hear the music, because they flow along with it, rather than being held to downbeats and 8-counts.  The same goes for the Maestro.  He has sections of music, and shifts his creation with the changing of the concerto, but does not hold himself to the rhythm of Brahms, but rather creates a syncopated one that compliments and contradicts in a spectacular way, finding nuances within the music that I never would have heard, and it’s magical to watch.

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L-R: Justin Reiter, Patrick Kilbane and Tory Peil

 

I can’t wait to see how the Maestro will finish his creation to this beautiful piece of music.  I’m so excited to see how the seven stunning balls of clay, each with their unique color and texture, come together to make a stunningly creative, deliciously complex, and fantastically entertaining sculpture, the likes of which only the Maestro can create.

Thank you to the Maestro (Olivier, I’m calling you that from now on, so get used to it!) and to Katie Bombico, Executive Director, for allowing me to tip toe into the Whim W’Him world for a few wonderful hours.  Watching true artists create art is the best way I can think to spend a day.  I will see you both at the show and wish you all a very enthusiastic and supportive Merde!!

Tickets and show info for IN-spired can be found on Whim W’Him’s website and Brown Paper Tickets.

Ciao for now,

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Photo Credit: Bamberg Fine Art

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

Seattle Ballet Legend, Patricia Barker, Is Back!

Dance Show Promotional
Patricia Barker, Artistic Director, Grand Rapids Ballet

Patricia Barker, Artistic Director, Grand Rapids Ballet

When you think of ballet in Seattle, one name is sure to immediately jump into your mind: Patricia Barker.  Seattleites were blessed with the gift of having Ms. Barker on the stage at the Pacific Northwest Ballet for 27 glorious years, reveling in her journey as a fast rising star from her early days with the company to growing into an iconic ballet goddess. I’m sure I speak for all of her fans when I say our hearts broke a bit when we had to say goodbye to her in 2007 when she hung up her toe shoes and retired from performing.  Well, let the healing begin, because the legend is back, people! Patricia Barker is coming back to Seattle next week with Grand Rapids Ballet in a role we’ve never seen from her before in the Northwest: Artistic Director!

At Grand Rapids Ballet, Ms. Barker found a new home, and a new stage to wow audiences on, only this time from the director’s chair where, for the past five years, she has brought together dancers and choreographers to create mesmerizing movement out of innovative concepts.  Any ballet company would have been lucky to have Ms. Barker at the helm, so when asked what it was about Grand Rapids Ballet that made her want to call it home for this next chapter of her career she said, “There is a hunger here for new and innovative art.  Because of the support from our audience and the community, I have been able to push my own boundaries as an Artistic Director by continually challenging myself to find and bring in the best talent that there is out there.”

APB-GRB2She not only found amazing talent within her company (I’m speaking of course, of the exquisite dancers she works with every season), but she also shares her stage with choreographers from all over the world. These brilliantly creative people come to Michigan to collaborate with her dancers to, in her own words,“…build a breathtaking repertory full of innovation, passion and humor that is both bold and daring.”

Collaboration was always evident with Ms. Barker as a performer, bringing to life one captivating role after another, so I’m not surprised at all that she continues this tradition of bar raising excellence as an Artistic Director. You would see Ms. Barker dance iconic roles like Odette or Titania, and know that you’d never see it quite like that on any other dancer. There was a consistent strength, connection, and unique sense of style in her movement that could never be replicated. Patricia Barker had a resounding voice as a performer, and I’ve no doubt she’s instructing and inspiring the Grand Rapids Ballet dancers to find their own voices within their movement and to, if you’ll indulge the metaphor, harmonize beautifully with all the choreographers who show up to create new works with them.

“The success of these choreographers is largely due to the dedication and passion and talents of my dancers, who work with them to bring inspiration and ideas to life on stage.”

~Patricia Barker, Artistic Director, Grand Rapids Ballet

It’s those collaborations that Seattle audiences are finally going to get to see when Grand Rapids Ballet arrives next week to perform works by five internationally renowned choreographers, in two parts, over a five-day extravaganza of creativity and passion.

11866340_10207918983959393_9221530741689023822_nFirst up will be A Midsummer Night’s Dream, choreographed by Olivier Wevers, Artistic Director of my favorite Seattle-based Dance Company, Whim W’Him. It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Mr. Wevers, and a proud ‘Whimmer’ (which is the name they have adorably given us supporters of their company), but I have been a fan since I saw him dance, alongside Ms. Barker, in many ballets at the Pacific Northwest Ballet.  Knowing that he is a part of Ms. Barker’s return to Seattle just makes me all the more excited for her production to arrive!

This is not the first time Mr. Wevers and Ms. Barker have collaborated on this story as they danced it many times together at Pacific Northwest Ballet.  So, for Ms. Barker to commission Mr. Wevers to choreograph a completely new version on her company seems like a match made in heaven.  Mr. Wevers and Ms. Barker have collaborated during her time at Grand Rapids Ballet twice before Midsummer, but this is the first full length piece Mr. Wevers has done for her.

Patricia and I constantly exchange ideas with each other.  She is willing to take risks, and I love working with her because she truly sees the future of dance.

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

Two of my favorite PNB dancers of all time joining forces again, this time as the creative genius team reinventing one of my favorite stories makes me so happy, I can’t even tell you! Barker meets Wevers meets Shakespeare?  A holy trinity of creativity, if ever there was one, and my jubilation level of anticipation is through the roof!  So, what can we expect with this modern Midsummer? From Ms. Barker herself, we can expect mesmerizing movement and sophisticated humor.

APB-GRB3“Olivier and I have a special relationship that stretches back to our days of dancing together at PNB. Creating a contemporary twist on something as classic as Shakespeare with my close friend has been exhilarating. Olivier’s choreography is truly mesmerizing and his ability to tell a story with sophisticated humor is exceptional. My dancers have unique perspective now on this story which I know will carry over the footlights into the audience.”

I had the pleasure of discussing this piece with Mr. Wevers tonight, and the concept and design are so fascinating, so intriguing and new, I cannot wait to see his vision come to life! I don’t want to say too much, because spoiler alerts are never fun, but one view of the teaser video, reinforces that this ain’t your grandmother’s Midsummer! No, this is, in fact, a modern, whimsical spin told from the perspective of the young changeling boy Oberon and Titania fight over throughout the story.  A character, if you have never seen the play staged, that often gets overlooked and ignored based on the way Shakespeare wrote it.  Mr. Wevers, however, has merged the changeling boy with the character of Nick Bottom giving this character a new voice and a unique journey from inside the imagination of a young child as his dreams of his adult self come to life.  Mind already blown, and I havne’t even seen it yet!

Set on the backdrop of America politics with lighting by the brilliant Michael Mazzola (Wevers and Mazzola are a dream team as you’ll recall from my review of Whim W’him’s 2015 Choreographic Shindig), this is going to be an extraordinary piece you will not want to miss! This audience member cannot wait to have the energy and creativity spill over the footlights into the Cornish Theatre, and you should all join me!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream plays Oct 7-9, 2015 at the Cornish Playhouse, and you can get tickets on Brownpaper Tickets.

Movemedia-smallAnd if that is not enough to have you heading over to Brownpaper Tickets to get your seats, then how about part two of Ms. Barker’s triumphant return to Seattle? It comes in the form of a mixed rep production called MOVEMEDIA | Seattle, and it features works by four internationally renowned choreographers. To tantalize your dance loving taste buds, here is how Ms. Barker describes each work and why she chose this show as the first one to bring to the Pacific Northwest:

“It was important to me to not only pick ballets that Seattle will enjoy but also ballets that represent our inventiveness as a company.

Slight-242x300The first ballet in the program is Slight by Penny Saunders. Coming from Hubbard Street, Penny had a lot of fun experimenting with light and shadows, creating a fully immersive experience.

Beethoven-Web-242x300Our next ballet, Mario Radacovsky’s Beethoven, premiered on our stage last season to audience acclaim. In the middle of the ballet, there is a powerful orchestra section, interpreted through dance, which speaks volumes to the genius of Beethoven.

Written-Forgotten-Web-242x300Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is a star in the dance world. When WRITTEN & FORGOTTEN premiered in Grand Rapids, audience members left the theatre dancing down the aisles. Her ability to discuss the human journey through dance is something I feel privileged to share with audiences in Seattle.

APB-GRB5Lastly, David Parsons’ The Envelope is a modern masterpiece that has been performed by ballet companies all over the world… but never in Seattle. I feel honored to bring this humorous and creative work to the West Coast.”

This will be my first exposure to these four choreographers, but based on the delicious way Ms. Barker described these pieces, I think my fellow Seattle dance enthusiasts and I are in for quite a treat!

MOVEMEDIA | Seattle plays Oct 10-11, also at the Cornish Playhouse, and tickets can be purchased at Brownpaper Tickets. Take a look at the teaser video of this amazing body of work!

Born and raised in Washington State, Seattle was Ms. Barker’s home for a long time and it holds a special place in her heart. She returns to Seattle to share with us the work she’s done with Grand Rapids Ballet, and also seems quite excited to share Seattle with her company of dancers. I have absolutely no doubt that this will not only be a successful introduction, but will be the start of a beautiful, life-long friendship between our great city and the exquisite ballet company of Grand Rapids, all thanks to the legendary creativity and vision of Ms. Patricia Barker who so graciously and enthusiastically is bringing her passion to share with us. And I, for one, am humbled and honored to be a part of it.

APB-GRB6Please don’t miss this incredible opportunity to watch Grand Rapids Ballet perform in Seattle for the very first time.  Welcome home, Ms. Barker. We’ve missed you!

Ciao for now,

M lg

Photos courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet and grballet.com

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’s Choreographic Shindig is a Must See!

Dance Show Promotional

There are rare moments in life that move you.  For me, it usually comes in the form of watching artists creating their art.  Seeing a profound performance in a play, or hearing a tenor sing a Sondheim song perfectly, or watching a dancer move through epic choreography.  And it’s that last one that moved me today when I had the pleasure and the privilege to watch a rehearsal  at my favorite Seattle based dance company:  Whim W’him.

Artistic Director, Olivier Wevers, and Executive Director, Catherine Bombico were kind enough to invite me in to watch as the dancers prepare for their upcoming performance at WWDC’s Choreographic Shindig, opening in a few short weeks.  Last year the Whim W’him company of dancers issued an international call to emerging choreographic talent to come and create with them.  Of the 95 entries, three ridiculously talented artists were selected:  Joshua Peugh, Maurya Kerr, and Ihsan Rustem.  And today, I got to watch Mr. Peugh rehearse his creation with the full company, and it was an inspirational, emotionally charged experience for me.

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Choreography: Joshua Peugh……Dancers: Tori Peil and Justin Reiter

Not to give much away, as you must come experience this for yourself to truly understand what no amount of words could convey, but to tantalize your taste buds, I’ll describe what Mr. Peugh has created as a remarkable piece that makes one feel as though they are attending a Mad Men meets Pulp Fiction themed dinner party hosted by Rosemary Clooney who croons us all in to each course, one more delectable and delicious than the one before!  Sound bizarre?  It’s not!  It’s beautiful!

I want to gush more about this, but I’ll hold off until my review after the performance, because you know, spoiler alerts and all.  I will just say, watching these artists work on their craft, perfecting their art, pulled on the heartstrings and filled this dance-lover’s soul with complete joy!  I’m so excited to see all three of the amazing numbers I know are waiting for me at this shindig!

The Whim W’him Choreographic Shindig will be at the Erickson Theater Off Broadway, 1524 Harvard Avenue, Seattle, WA 98122, and runs September 11-19, 2015:

  • September 11-12 at 8pm
  • September 13th at 5pm
  • September 16-19 at 8pm.

I, myself, will be attending the Saturday, September 12th performance, and I really think each and every one of you should join me!

To the entire company and all three choreographers, I give a resounding and enthusiastic Merde!

Please come out and support these amazing artists we are lucky enough to have in our great city.  Tickets can be purchased on Brownpaper Tickets here:  http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1728649.

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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