“Dance is a form of human expression that we can all share and understand,” Whim W’him’s Artistic Director Olivier Wevers said in his pre-performance address for opening night of OUT-spoken on June 3. In the program notes, Wevers further likened movement to poetry that delves into the communal experience of interpersonal struggles and strife. He hopes that dance can bridge cultures, ethnicities, and orientations to communicate in the common language of movement. OUT-spoken concluded Whim W’him’s INSIDE/OUT 2015/16 season.
Wevers’ A Disagreeable Tale of Duplicity opened the evening, illustrating “a painful personal episode” in the choreographer’s own life. Scenery delineated the Playhouse’s large stage into a tighter, more intimate area, with wings encroaching the space and a hanging black fringe partly obscuring the upstage quadrant. When dancers entered or walked across this separated area, it evoked actions or memories scrolling through the mind. The work began with a compact duet between dancers Tory Peil and Patrick Kilbane: they moved around each other in close proximity as if endeavoring to occupy the same space, their friction keeping them upright. With dancers costumed in a uniform of men’s slacks and multi-colored unisex tank tops, the work seemed to erase gender. Further, Disagreeable featured duets pairing both men and women, seemingly interchangeably. Dancers wearing combat boots and camouflage marched around with sheaves of paper, led by Justin Reiter’s sinister, fedora-wearing character. These soldiers occasionally kept Peil and Kilbane apart and sometimes shoved them back together, agents of fate or the arbiters of inscrutable governmental rulings. After a male dancer, clad in innocent blue, fleetingly stole Kilbane’s attentions, Peil’s psyche was tipped over the edge of insanity and despair.
To begin the next section, ominous, gargantuan pincers (or horns, fabricated by Andor Studio) penetrated the space through the fringe curtain. As tension and curiosity mounted, the Devil, portrayed menacingly by Mia Monteabaro, sashayed onto the stage. Peil succumbed unwillingly at first, but, after passionate resistance, ultimately found pleasure in the two women’s violent and erotic duet. The pairing culminated in Monteabaro stripping Peil of her white tank top and then taking a colossal, sickening whiff of Peil’s dejected, prone body. Her shirt symbolically replaced by a red one to match the Devil’s, Peil descended further into darkness and isolation, tearing and gyrating to an unravelling Prokofiev soundtrack (designed by Dylan Ward) that evoked a bottomless pit. While the theme of the recurring leaves of paper remained open to interpretation, the work concluded satisfyingly with the image of hundreds of white papers writ with ruinous words raining from the ceiling down onto Peil’s broken figure.
James Gregg’s Into you I go willingly consisted of a weighty, grounded duet between Kilbane and Jim Kent. Heavily muscular partnering was interspersed with tentative gestures and tender cradling of each others’ faces. The piece’s most memorable aspects were the set design by Danny Estrada with construction by Johnathan Betchel and costuming by Mark Zappone. The two dancers wore warm-colored rags and suspenders, constructed from soft, worn fabrics that lent their relationship a timeless mood. Towering over the dancers stood a gorgeous wooden wall sculpture resembling a sieve or a maze. The play of light and shadows from the wall onto the floor generated a compelling dance unto itself. Glacially, as the work progressed, a spotlight upstage tracked from the ceiling to the floor, the changing color redolent of a setting sun.
Gregg’s work seemed to feature primarily one particular relationship in the choreographer’s life. Although the structure of the piece included stops and starts suggestive of the beginning and end of multiple relationships, the overall arch of the work fell flat dynamically. Kilbane and Kent’s partnership lacked the chemistry to sizzle through 40 minutes without entrances or exits. The couple was also mismatched in technical proficiency. Disappointingly, the quality of choreography did not match the work’s state-of-the-art production value.
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Delicious Pesticides closed the evening with a pistol-waving bang. An ode to the cult classic film Pulp Fiction, the work was chock full of references and inside jokes that did not need to be fully understood to enjoy the feisty and vivacious choreography. Wearing rose-colored John Lennon-esque sunglasses, the dancers creepily wiggled fingers dipped in red paint. This blood-like dye seeped fittingly onto their white shirts throughout the course of the piece. In unison phrase work reminiscent of insects crawling over one another in a hive, the dancers mean-mugged to comic effect while loosely reacting to memorable quotations from the movie: “Pigs are filthy animals,” “Zed’s dead, baby.” The ensemble cast of seven created intricate Rube Goldberg machines of cause and effect as one dancer fell out of unison, pointed his or her fingers as a gun at another, who reacted to continue the cycle.
The work was a whirlwind of immaculate comedic timing; high energy, voracious dancing that ate up the space; and legs for days. By the time Delicious Pesticides ended, underneath an apt gobo etching the barrels of twin crossed .45s, the audience was screaming and on its feet, begging for more. Ochoa’s complex and laden work warrants another viewing, merely to take in more of its manifold details.This kind of piece showcases Whim W’him’s dancers at their best, tearing into jaw-dropping choreography whose unexpected twists delight at each turn.
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