Whim W’Him Not All Whimsy with Cast the First Rock in Twenty Twelve

Written by Mariko Nagashima
Whim W’Him in thrOwn.
Photo by Bamberg Fine Arts.

Hot off the heels of his retirement as a principal with PNB last season, Olivier Wevers has been anything but idle. With a Princess Grace Award under his belt (see our interview here) as well as winning the Dance Under the Stars choreography competition this fall for Monster, Wevers and his company, Whim W’Him, have generated a lot of buzz both locally and nationally. Cast the First Rock in Twenty Twelve is the Seattle premier of Wevers’ three newest works. It runs the gamut of moods from the fanciful to the darkly sober.

The show began with La Langue de L’Amour, a saucy solo for the beautiful Chalnessa Eames, also recently retired from PNB. With her hair shorn into a pixie-like do, and clad in a wispy nude dress with striking black piping, Eames makes an insufferable flirt. Her dancing is impeccable; every quirky flick of the wrist, wiggle of the hips, and daring dive to the floor is perfectly controlled, even while feigning a stumbling drunkenness. She coyly eyes the audience as she bites her finger, then, suddenly not-so-coy, bends over and peeks at us through her outspread legs. She could either be viewed as a care-free woman who enjoys being the consummate tease, or as an attention-seeker in a game of desperate coquetry. It edges more toward the latter with the insistent harpsichord music, the asymmetrical shafts of white light through which she continually darts, and the excessively flaunted sexuality. Though the program notes call it “a dollop of cream…laced with a drop of XO cognac,” it feels like this cream has gone a bit sour.
(Andrew Bartee and Lucien Postelwaite in
Flower Festival. Photo by Bamberg Fine Art) 

Flower Festival, however, strikes just the right chord. Using music from August Bournonville’s 1858 classic ballet of the same name, Wevers has upended the decorum and propriety normally associated with Bournonville and created a duet for two men in his trademark whimsical style. Danced with just the right mixture of wit and aplomb by Andrew Bartee and Lucien Postelwaite, the two men compete with increasing silliness. Undressing becomes a means to one up each other that eventually reveals colorful socks and boxing shorts under their mutely-toned business suits. This is Wevers at his best and the quirky movement has a delightful freshness to it. The dancers seem to think so too and they almost seem surprised by each idiosyncratic explosion of wiggling limbs or the virtuosic pirouettes that they often find themselves floating through. And though the choreography is inherently silly, like the goofy motion where Bartee continually trips himself, or when Postelwaite spins Bartee by the neck of his suit jacket, their straight-faced delivery makes it all the more humorous. 

Though Wevers’ has become known for this quirky frivolity, he does not shy away from heavier issues. With thrOwn he delves into the subject of universal judgment, exploring its historical manifestation in the practice of death by stoning. Eames plays the offender, an adulterous woman made to suffer the consequences: an initial shunning, a lashing while her son watches, and an eventual stoning to death, all artistically articulated, of course. The rest of the dancers fluidly shift between roles as her “mother, husband, lover, son, comforter, accuser, jailer, and executioner.” This narrative is enacted in the first and third section, but in the middle Wevers explores modern society’s capacity for judgment. The bars of light that created a jail cell become stripes on the American flag, and Eames submits to various forms of capital punishment. Rife with symbolism, the many gestural phrases and cleverly devised ensemble partnering in this section indicate both the capacity for judgment, and for good, in each of us. The tidy moral implores us to be accountable for our own choices whatever they might be.
Chalness Easmes in La Langue de l’amore.
Photo by Bamberg Fine Art.

There are moments of exquisite beauty nestled throughout the work, though most revolve around Eames: a tender duet with Postelwaite as her lover, a contorted and a heart-wrenching solo where she both pleads for help and resigns herself to her fate. The lower points are when the work seems to lose focus, either because Wevers tries to explore too many ideas at once (when all five dancers writhe separately after throwing the first rock), or dwells on one for too long (the needlessly lengthy lashing). The whole thing is framed by Steve Jensen’s stunning sets; a huge swirl sweeps across the floor and the burnt orange hues evoke a dusty desert land, totally immersing the audience in this microcosm of drama.

The dancers are, of course, spectacularly talented. By assembling a cast where technical perfection is the base line, Wevers has given himself almost infinite choreographic possibilities. He uses this talent generously, creating a diverse and innovative kinetic vocabulary. Not a show to be missed, Cast the First Rock in Twenty Twelve runs this evening at 8 pm and Sunday at 5 pm at the Intiman Theater. Tickets are available at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/214802 or at the door.