Preview: Whim W’Him’s Approaching Ecstasy

Written by Mariko Nagashima
Whim W’Him dancers Lucien Postlewaite and Kaori Nakamura
in rehearsal for Approaching Ecstasy
Photo by Kim Bamberg
Known for its ever inventive and deftly performed works of contemporary ballet, Whim W’Him is once again tackling an ambitious program with its upcoming show, Approaching Ecstasy. Director Oliver Wevers has partnered with composer Eric Banks, leader of the choral group The Esoterics, to create a dance and choral envisioning of the poems of C.P. Cavafy. A huge undertaking incorporating forty onstage singers, five musicians (the Mt. St. Helens String Quartet, conducted by Banks), seven dancers, several extensive set pieces, all depicting eighteen separate poems, this production is collaboration on a grand scale. Approaching Ecstasy will be playing this weekend, May 20–22, 2012, at the Intiman Theater.
The idea of collaborating with Banks had been percolating in Wevers’ mind for several years, even before Whim W’Him had been created. “He had this idea of the Cavafy poems; he had wanted to compose to them, and [we realized] this is a great piece that would work with dance, but it wasn’t the right time,” Wevers relayed in a recent interview with SeattleDances. Now, with Whim W’Him as a firmly established platform that could support this undertaking, the timing was finally right. After selecting the poems with Wevers and discussing the order, Banks arranged the eighteen poems into a loose narrative arc. “Mostly I kind of let him play with the order because that was going to influence his music. He’s very symmetrical the way he works, I’m very not symmetrical; I like imperfections!” says Wevers with a laugh, but “I felt comfortable with what he had come up with, and then he composed it from there.” The product is a blend of haunting voices and luscious strings that reaches maximum potency when paired with the intricacies of Wevers’ choreography.
Though not completely literal, the movement references various aspects of the text as well as Cavafy’s own life. Wevers has a knack for enchantingly entwining duets, evident in several breath-taking passages between Kaori Nakamura and Lucien Postlewaite, and in another where Andrew Bartee effortlessly partners a table, his limbs threading in and out of its structure. The celebrated choreographer’s skill with ensemble work shines as well in sections featuring the entire group weaving rapidly through satisfying patterns and layered movements. Wevers’ choreography even extends beyond the dancers. It was “important that it wasn’t just the choir sitting in the back singing,” he says. As a result, the singers are onstage the whole time, integrated into the piece’s architecture. “[They] have been wonderful. I told them you’re going to be moving, you’re going to be singing, and they’ve been so disciplined, and really excited about it.”
And while collaboration on this level has its challenges, Wevers finds it equally rewarding. “I get inspired by working with other artists. You can’t just do what you want; you have a challenge in front of you.” In this case, Banks’ music wasn’t always what Wevers had in mind for each poem, “but it was great because it threw me one way that I had to follow. I love collaborating. It’s more expensive, more challenging, more time consuming, but it’s also great, I think, for the arts to have that kind of exchange. It brings more layers to everything.”
Whim W’Him dancers Andrew Bartee and Lucien Postlewaite
Photo by Kim Bamberg
Another source of inspiration for Wevers is the dancers who bring his vision to life. Ranging from Cornish graduates and principals at PNB, the dancers are an eclectic and hugely talented mix. Though Wevers admits there isn’t really a unifying quality among them, he loves the diversity, which helps accentuate his choreography. “I don’t want any dancer to look like another dancer. Whenever the curtain goes up for me, they’re each individuals, they’re each human beings, with their own personalities. So as much as they have to dance together, I want their quirks to show through,” he says.
Quirks and all, Whim W’Him can be seen this weekend in Approaching Ecstasy at the Intiman Theater. Tickets are available at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/238724.