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

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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