X-posed Angst at Whim W’him

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In its five years as a company, Olivier Wevers’ Whim W’Him has established itself as a troupe of incredible dancers, with a legion of loyal fans. Everything about their productions speaks to the professional standards the company holds, from the quality of the print materials with a long list of donors, to the talent and training overflowing in each of the seven dancers. To close its fifth season, Whim W’Him opened X-POSED on May 29, offering a program of works that contended with the angst of moving against the current and confronting one’s own demons and shortcomings.

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Whim W’Him in Manuel Vignoulle’s RIPple efFECT
Photo by Bamberg Fine Art

The program began with RIPple efFECT, by French choreographer Manuel Vignoulle. Dancer Tory Peil stood in the middle of a clump of bodies sprawled on the floor, letting a fluid movement ripple through her limbs and spine, then suddenly jolting and twitching as a static hum interrupted the music. Costumed in ragged grey garb with red, wound-like rips, the dancers moved between huge stag leaps, spiraling falls, and Thriller-like tics with wide, satisfied grimaces on their faces. Slowly, the choreography evolved, at first cutting between animalistic prowling, smooth unison, and incessant shaking, before morphing into a stunning series of risk-taking partnering and lifts. These pairings showcased the prowess of the dancers and followed the ripple of change that one person can effect on those around them. But, no matter how impressive or suited to the theme of the piece, such a long series of physical tricks wear out quickly.

After the first intermission, Kate Wallich’s piece, (Black Heart), took the stage, which was stripped down to the bare bones. Red light and a screeching buzz filled the theater as dancers sauntered on. A chandelier of coiled light ropes swung across the stage, setting the dancers in motion. Loud, discordant electronic organ music accompanied smooth, lazy movements punctuated by sharp, smacking strikes. Soloists wove through dancers who walked across the stage like video-game obstacles, cued into one course and one movement pattern without acknowledging anything around them. Black Heart captured the dark side of creating and rehearsing dance; self-doubt, jealousy, rejection, pain, and disappointment all came to play. The layers of the piece were carefully juxtaposed, little stories and relationships emerging on the sidelines while the dancers on the floor stuck to their emotionless routines. Again, the dancers proved their versatility by fully embodying Wallich’s posturing—a combination of aggression and apathy, with tension held in their shoulders and core while their faces assumed a distant, indifferent frown.

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Black Heart by Kate Wallich
Photo by Bamberg Fine Art

The program closed with Wevers’ Alone is the Devil, an exploration of the seven deadly sins: Vanity, Lust, Sloth, Greed, Anger, Gluttony, and Envy. Jim Kent took the lead role as a man whose internal world is populated with demons that lead him through the temptations of those seven sins we all live with and attempt to control. The demons writhed, slithered, and struck out, menacing figures that, along with the constantly shifting shadows onstage, carried Kent through these different regions of his mind, watching him succumb or resist each temptation. The program notes claim that these principles are “a taking-off point—not literal, but as inspiration and raw material” for the work. However, with a subject matter that has such rich histories of imagery and interpretation, Wevers could just as well have embraced the literal narrative inherent in exploring these states of being. While he didn’t necessarily bring any new revelations to the discussion of the seven sins, he did employ creative means of depicting it, using various tricks of stage magic, from a rolling mirror that could be broken apart and reassembled to well-concealed onstage costume changes.

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Jim Kent and Whim W’Him dancers in Olivier Wevers’ Alone is the Devil
Photo by Bamberg Fine Art

Whim W’Him’s next season is shaping up to be an impressive undertaking in Seattle dance. With three full shows, nine new works, and eight new choreographers, the troupe is taking a big step into its own as a fully-fledged professional company. With such high ambitions and expectations comes great responsibility to provide full-bodied and clear-minded dance, as Seattle’s community demands. Whim W’Him does deliver intellectual depth in the pieces it commissions, but it is the caliber of the dancers that makes the company a treasure of Seattle dance.

More information about Whim W’Him can be found on their website.