Limbs fold and unfold as sinuous dancers follow oscillating pathways within their bodies. Legs undulate amorphously, unfettered by the usual anatomical range of joints. Arms fan open in a kaleidoscopic mandala, each iteration an expanding emphasis of the previous configuration. Crouching. Reaching. Molten lava pours across the floor. Suddenly one dancer stalls in a yogic headstand. He teeters over the top, flirting with a fall that threatens serious spinal injury. In a gravity-defying breath, he flips and soundlessly dissolves back into the floor, lithe as taffy once more.
In Alice Klock’s Before After, the seven dancers of Whim W’Him treat the audience to innovative movement vocabulary, interspersed with gestures performed with creature-like curiosity. An auditory bath of European minimalist electronica evokes nature and the emptiness of the cosmos. Costumed in billowing watercolor hues, as designed by Nora Dobrev, each dancer plays their own part in the re-creation of the universe, sometimes compellingly human in their open gazes and at other times their physicality as powerful as the elements.
Klock’s use of repetition lingers in a unison image that exemplifies her intention to create a “new paradigm.” Over and over the dancers throw themselves to the floor, their performance task-based rather than overly-dramatized. This section of striving undauntedly and falling brutally gives way to an industrious period of sharp fists hammering from wide stances as the dancers work at building a new world. Finally, at the end of the piece, the lights cut out on the jumping ensemble, their bodies relaxed but not limp. Striving. Striving for ascendance.
Welcome to Barrio Ataxia, by Omar Román De Jesús, opens with bright, piercing female vocals, which evolve into an upbeat Latin composition by Lucho Bermudez. In pedestrian costumes designed by Elaine Ortiz, the dancers jive and pop to jubilant Colombian rhythms. Joy erupts into silly lip syncing or percussive jazzy shoulder shakes. Warm lighting created by LED shins, designed by Michael Mazzola, adds to the celebratory mood and evokes a sunset dance party. At the end of the song, however, shimmies morph into a full collapse. The title references ataxia, in the program notes described as a medical condition associated with “the loss of muscle control and balance.” This titular condition signals a shift for the remainder of the piece.
The music develops into slow, atmospheric sounds as the dancers tread drowsily in circular patterns. One dancer lifts and supports another in a partnering duet, her legs swinging like a pendulum as if disconnected from her torso. Uncontrolled spasms. A smattering of shakes return to the ensemble like continually resurfacing memories. Overlaying the ambient music, the crooning vocal track reemerges as well, furthering the juxtaposition between the energetic first section and the torpid second movement. Barrio Ataxia contained engaging elements of setting and theme, but I struggled to understand the connection between the dancers’ two disparate states of being.
Brendan Duggan’s work, Stephanie Knows Some Great People, created in collaboration with the dancers, punctuated the evening. This fully-realized creation was chock-full of character archetypes I recognized in my own friends and peers, local Seattle humor, and a biting social commentary. Costume design by Milena Hranac brought each character to life. The affable host, ready with a cliche pleasantry or a nasty-sounding craft cocktail. His braggart partner, asking her housewarming guests to imagine how amazing each room will look with furniture, especially an (expensive) Norwegian couch. A vapid Insta girl, more interested in selfies than her fawning hangers-on. Her boyfriend, loudly proclaiming his hipster cred with Coachella references in his efforts for her attention. An awkward, disaffected youth who screams and breaks into a realistic social anxiety meltdown. As the housewarming party wears on, each character deliciously fights for the spotlight, revealing their prototypical motivations to humorous effect.
Speech in the form of rambling monologue supports each character’s movements. Karl Watson showcased his considerable comedic chops in both opening the piece and throughout the work, his impeccable timing and hilarious, idiosyncratic characterization of the housewarming host revealing his talents as an actor, in addition to his skills as a movement artist. A pair of party-goers amusingly assists the man trying in vain to get Insta Girl to notice him. He climbs over them as they look on in embarrassment, just as one might stifle an eye-roll while engaged in polite conversation. The trio changes focus to another character, whose constant tippling has finally resulted in complete, boneless inebriation. I could have watched Liane Aung tilt precariously and fall fearlessly for hours, her partners scrambling to prop her up.
A dreamy soundtrack of jazz standards serenades the work. Just the type of inoffensive elevator music you’d expect at a function put on by social climbers for their posturing friends. When the party devolves into increasingly fractured small talk convincingly voiced by the performers, the musical soundscape gains chatter as well. The work ingeniously utilized the Erickson Theatre’s pared-down space, devoid of curtains, wings, or lighting trees. Giant doors upstage opened up to reveal the apartment’s balcony with a view of the word “WOW” illuminated by Edison bulbs. “If you squint you can sort of see Elliott Bay,” chimes the host. Duggan’s work unmasks the undercurrents of pretension simmering beneath Millennial social interaction.
In Stephanie Knows Some Great People, all of the production elements meld seamlessly to create an entirely encapsulated world, the choreography emerging as an organic expression of character, rather than an abstraction of thematic ideas. Duggan’s vision premiered in an already-mature composition, one I’d beg to see again as a full-length work.
In Choreographic Shindig IV, Whim W’Him’s sublime dancers again had the unique opportunity commission choreographers from across the globe. Next year’s lineup, chosen from hundreds of applicants, has already been announced. It is surely not to be missed. For more information on Olivier Wevers’ Whim W’Him, please visit HERE.