Whim W’Him’s Approaching Ecstasy: A Feast for the Senses

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

This was the first show at my favorite Seattle based dance company where I have not been able to go get a preview of some part of it by attending a rehearsal.  This was an exciting and new experience where I had no idea what was waiting for me behind the curtain of the Cornish Theatre, but with the entire show being one piece created by the Maestro, Artistic Director, Olivier Wevers, I was extremely amped to see what he created this time around.

As I took my seat, I opened my program to read the Choreographer’s notes, and was highly intrigued to read that Mr. Wevers was inspired by the poetry of Constantine Cavafy, a Greek closeted gay poet who lived in early 1900s Egypt. To quote Mr. Wevers, ” …hiding shamefully under a business suit.  Repressed, tormented and frustrated, he evaded his reality with poetry.  His exquisitely arranged words still resonate true today, and are as relevant as ever.”

How would Mr. Wevers interpret the poetry?  It was clear there was going to be live music on stage, of which I was suuuuper excited about because it was all strings, and I love me a string quartet! But there was also a list of esoterics with a chorus master listed, so would we get live singing as well??!?!?  So many questions!

And I would get my answers quickly after the lights faded and the curtain rose.  The music that came from the string quartet was hauntingly melodic.  As always, the lighting by Michael Mazzola set an ominous glow where, two by two, under the golden wash, the Esoterics entered the stage to take their places in two rows of chairs, set just past the wings on stage, to leave the floor wide open for the wonderful Whim W’Him dancers to do what they do best.

Most of the dancers shared the same costume as the Esoterics, the business suit which Constantine Cavafy hid within, complete with bowler hats, reminding me of Magritte’s The Son of Man painting.  From my seat in the 3rd row, I found it tough to make out the faces of the dances, as the hats, and Mr. Mazzola’s brilliant lighting created an anonymity amongst the dancers that I fould beautiful and frustrating at the same time.  The one clear vision, shining bright as the star she is, was Ms. Tory Peil who came leaping ontothe stage in a gorgeous costume of a bustled short dress made primarily out of neckties!  0007-Bamberg-Fine-Art-AE17Dress-X2.jpgThe light on her was so crisp and clear, and was a lovely contrast to the blur of businessmen surrounding her on stage.

338-Bamberg-Fine-Art-AE17Dress-X2.jpgThe Esoterics sang parts of Cavafy’s poetry throughout the piece, sometimes from their chairs, sometimes joining the dancers on stage.  I will say, I didn’t enjoy when they came on stage so much, as I found it more distracting than anything.  They were often blocking my ability to see the choreography, and I hated missing even a minute of the beautiful movement Mr. Wevers created.  I also didn’t find the singers to react well in the scenes where the dancers interacted with them, which again, distracted me from watching the nuances of the dancers.  I think it was more about where I was sitting, though, as I had friends with me who sat on the other side of the stage and said they didn’t find the singers distracting at all, and never had their view of the dancers blocked.  Not sure if this frustration was part of Mr. Wevers’ vision, in staging the way he did where only part of the audience could see certain parts to mirror Cavafy’s dual life where he hid parts of himself from the world.  Either way, I just hated missing any part of the dance, so for me, the singers needed to keep their lovely voices in the chairs on the side of the stage so I could watch the dancers dance.

And let’s get to these dancers, shall we?  Each dancer transitioned from phrase to phrase180-Bamberg-Fine-Art-AE17Dress-S effortlessly, telling the tales of this heartbreaking poetry.  Liane Aung, with her amazing lines, and those breathtaking feet dazzled me as she always does.  Mia Monteabaro danced a stunning pas de deux with Ms. Aung that was both sensual and joyful, and together these women ignited the hope portion of the program.  You couldn’t help but smile watching that part of the program.  And that duet was a striking contrast to my favorite part of the show which was a pas de deux with Patrick Kilbane and Karl Watson dancing on either side of a mirror that was so 0002-Bamberg-Fine-Art-AE17Dress-S.jpghauntingly tranced, that I feared blinking in case I missed one moment.  Mr. Kilbane, facing the audience, Mr. Watson, dancing his reflection, these two men are not even remotely built the same, however, somehow, the movement was so mesmerizing that I was able to 100% suspend my disbelief and got lost in Mr. Kilbane anxiously exploring his reflection, trying desperately to figure out who he is, addressing his facade, and it was absolutely gorgeous.

The rest of this show had the dancers transitioning between their suits to white underwear and tank tops, and in stripping the dancers down, the scenes danced in that attire perfectly matched the poetry exposing Cavafy’s struggle in his own skin.  The moments of freedom Mr. Wevers created, of sheer abandon and joy, and then just as quickly the dancers were trussed back up in their suits, hiding from who they truly are and it broke my heart.

0008-Bamberg-Fine-Art-AE17Dress-X2.jpgThe final section of this show that I want to write about was a danced by Mr. Watson, Mr. Kilbane, Jim Kent, and Justin Reiter.  Mr. Kent, completely vulnerable dancing in only his white shorts, no shirt, lounges on top of Mr. Reiter, Mr. Kilbane and Mr. Watson who were all dressed in their suits, complete with hates, in the most glorious moment of this show for me.  Mr. Kent was pushed, pulled, lifted, twirled, and slid all over the stage by these three men in suits, and it felt like the wish from Mr. Wevers for all the closeted gay artists out there to say, “You don’t have to hide! You can be you! And that which you hid behind, let them lift you up, because what you create is about them, too, and is part of them, too, and you don’t have to be them to be ok.”  And I just loved it!  I have no idea if that’s what Mr. Wevers intended for that moment, but it is the emotion it evoked in me, and I am so proud of these men for so beautifully bringing that out in me.  It was the only moment in this piece that touched me to the point of tears, because the so much of the show brought out anger and frustration for me at the closeted life of so many.  But to have this hopeful moment at the end, yeah, tears rolled down my face, and I’m so grateful for them.

Tonight is closing night of Approaching Ecstasy, and I’m thrilled to announce that it is sold out.  This entire Senses season was absolutely wonderful, and I’m extremely excited to see what the next season holds!

Before I sign off, however, I want to say a special farewell to Mr. Kilbane and Mr. Reiter.  Tonight is their last show with Whim W’Him, as they move on to pursue new adventures and the next steps on their careers.

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Patrick…I know we didn’t get to spend as much time together as I’d like, but please know that watching you dance has been one of the most beautiful experiences of my dance lovers world.  The way you interpret choreography, the beautiful lines you create, and your ability to combine strength and grace is incomparable.  I wish you all the success and happiness in the world in your next chapter. Ballet BC is lucky to have you. Toi Toi Toi!!

006-Bamberg-Fine-Art-1200x1800.jpgMy beloved Justin…what can I say?!?  I am going to miss you so very much.  It is through you, and the wonderful people you call friends, who helped me find Whim W’Him in the first place.  And I will never forget the first time I saw you dance.  You blew my mind with your fluidity, and your honesty, and your raw emotion on stage.  You, my darling, are the stuffs that dance lover’s dreams are made of, and I’m so grateful that I had the privilege to watch you dance for the past three years.  You, and those amazing lines of yours, have a special place in my heart.  Please let me know where your next chapters lead you so that I can continue to come watch and support you throughout your career.  All the best, my darling!

Ciao for now,

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All Photos by Bamberg Fine Art 

Whim W’Him Gave Me Life with Sensation

Dance Review, Entertainment Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I give this a thunderous standing ovation!  Bravo!!

Ciao for now,

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

 

Canon in P: Brilliant Creativity by Penny Saunders on Whim W’Him

Dance Show Promotional, Entertainment Review

14993564_10157676467865035_242998834512113789_nIn addition to having a few days off of work, the other thing I love about winter vacation is that I have time to get to go do one of my favorite things: watch a Whim W’Him rehearsal! And this year, I got to watch the company work with the choreographer Penny Saunders, and I must say, it was a mesmerizing experience.

In the new rehearsal space, which is much smaller than the studios in the old space, I found Ms. Saunders’ choreography to take up all the space in the room, in the best way possible.  This piece centers around my beloved Justin Reiter, and I can’t tell you how good it was to see him at the heart of this piece. I missed his presence terribly in the Choreographic Shindig, as he was on the periphery for so much of it, and I missed his beautiful lines and powerful breath.

And speaking of breath, you’ve read numerous times how much I love how breath plays a strong part in the success of a WWDC performance.  The company finds a way to breathe together in a rhythmic way that does, in fact, mesmerize me, and Ms. Saunders uses their collective breath to her advantage with this piece.

Mr. Reiter sets the pace and timing of much of the movement with his breath, and the rest of the company follows beautifully.  Whether the only one moving, or whether immersed amidst his fellow dancers, his breath can be seen and heard as he takes the journey Ms. Saunders has created for him.  His complete control of his powerful, yet lithe body to isolate and flow through Ms. Saunders’ choreography is going to take your breath away, I promise you.  It’s everything I love about the way Justin moves, and can’t wait for the actual performance to see the growth he will have between now and then.

I’ve called this piece Canon in P, because Ms. Saunders utilized numerous canons throughout the piece, each more unique and interesting than the one before.  And the company, lined up differently each time, elevates something as simple as a canon to a level of art in that, they are doing the same movement, however, they manage to subtly insert their individuality to each movement creating a soft, yet dynamic symmetry.  Sitting in the small rehearsal room, I was completely entranced by all the canons, and I can’t wait to see how beautiful they will look when I’m up in the house watching this piece from a distance. When I said as much to Ms. Saunders, she smiled and said, “Me, too!”

And without giving away too much, I do quickly want to tantalize you with the promise of something ridiculously special waiting for you in this piece if you are wise enough to buy a ticket and come see this show.  And that special gift is in the form of a duet danced by the 004-bamberg-fine-art-1200x1800incomparable Patrick Kilbane, and new company member Liane Aung.  Mr. Kilbane, one of most stunning dancers I’ve ever had the privilege to watch dance live, has lines and feet that bring tears to my eyes, they are so beautiful.  And in Ms. Aung, he has met his 007-bamberg-fine-art-1200x1800match on that front.  Ms. Aung’s lines, sweet baby Jesus, and her extension are the stuffs that dance lovers’ dreams are made of, and her feet are so gorgeous, that I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.  I could write paragraphs and paragraphs about them, they are that spectacular as she finishes movements with her long, graceful fingers, or the exquisite point of her toe.  These two technical masters, these two emotionally open artists, these two breath-taking dancers have a section in this piece that absolutely transported and affected me.  I won’t tell you which feelings I felt, or where their beautiful moment took me, as I don’t want to color your experience, but trust me, people, you want to see this!  You need to see this!

Whim W’Him’s next show, Sensation opens on Jan 20, and runs through Jan 28.  Please 14962572_10157676466410035_9115623630654052940_nstart your 2017 off right by indulging your senses in this show.  I promise you, you won’t be disappointed!  I’ll be there opening night showing my support for my favorite Seattle Based dance company, and I do wish you’d join me. 

Ciao for now,

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Photos from Whim W’Him’s website and Facebook Page