In the hands of artistic director and choreographer Olivier Wevers, Whim W’Him has evolved into one of Seattle’s most successful and renowned companies since its establishment in 2009. The company has performed to critical acclaim in Seattle and beyond, clinching their hold on the local arts scene and setting a precedent for contemporary dance in the Pacific Northwest. But this weekend’s season opener, an inaugural event entitled Choreographic Shindig, proved to be more than the company’s usual whims. Shindig was a unique opportunity for the dancers to push beyond Whim W’Him’s usual aesthetic values, select their own choreographers, and offer a creative platform to three lucky artists from around the globe. Joshua L. Peugh, Maurya Kerr, and Ihsan Rustem choreographed a diverse program to be performed on two consecutive weekends (September 11-13 and 16-19) at the Erickson Theatre Off Broadway.
Peugh’s Short Acts on Heartstrings was a tender time warp of a piece—a leisurely, character-driven stroll through the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s that swept up audience members in an elegant, thematic montage. Dancers, dressed in either mint green chiffon dresses or black and white suits, went arm-in-arm in promenade, whistled spotlight solos, and sang choruses of “On A Clear Day” between foot-tapping, fast-paced, hand-jive-style jazz sequences. Although the personality apparent in the gestural phrases got lost amidst the fast-paced athleticism required by more classic jazz sections, overall, the dancers were as entertaining as they were technical. Set to velveteen voices of classic jazz artists Anita O’Day, Plavi Orkestar, The Mills Brothers, Ryuichi Sakamoto, The Lennon Sisters, and The McGuire Sisters, Heartstrings was a testament to American romanticism, early jazz dance, and the presentational aesthetics of vintage TV and performance. Peugh’s work was simultaneously classic and unique.
Into the Wide Welcome set a far different tone. A new creation by San Francisco’s Maurya Kerr and danced by six of Whim W’Him’s dancers, Into the Wide Welcome was haunting, unforgettable, and aesthetically captivating in multiple ways. Tory Peil and Kyle Johnson’s duet was particularly memorable for its evocative power. The dancers connected with such intimacy, the reality of their struggle appearing both perplexing and hopeless. At first consumed with the need to intertwine their limbs like choking vines, the dancers (Peil, specifically), appeared to be tormented by something unrecognizable to the audience, her body the manifestation of an indistinguishable fear. Characterized by spastic jerking, partnering, and releasing movements against a dark, industrial backdrop, both the duet and the work as a whole played with proximity and abstract concepts using emotion as a captivating performative tool. A beautiful contrast to Whim W’Him’s often lifted and line-driven work, Into the Wide Welcome demonstrated the immense versatility of Wevers’ dancers.
Ihsan Rustem’s The Road to Here was both serious and funny. Composed of solos, duets, trios, and ensemble work, the choreography shifted from balletic linearity into more contemporary spinal movement with frequent shifts in tempo. Most notably, the choreography utilized the theater space to great effect. Using two doors along the upstage wall for comedic interludes, dancers disappeared and reappeared, interjecting body parts into the doorways and running between them; one dancer even emerged stark naked, took one look at the audience, and screamed bloody murder as if caught in a childhood nightmare. Though the work was more abstract than its successors, The Road to Here was a rollercoaster of ideas that exemplified the experience of choice with a light heart and serious undertones.
Choreographic Shindig provided an incredible opportunity to see Whim W’Him dancers perform works by a diverse range of choreographers that showcased their adaptability and manifold technique. With over 95 applicants to choose from, the selection of Peugh, Kerr, and Rustem demonstrated that the dancers’ taste is as notable as their technique. Whim W’Him’s Choreographic Shindig continues September 16-19 at the Erickson Theatre Off Broadway. Tickets are available here.
More information about Whim W’Him can be found on their website.