WHIM SHINES IN XPRESS

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Dancers blaze through a series of curving, intricate solos, commanding the stage. The choreography is striking, first for its rich, detailed movement executed in a short amount of time, and second for its cleanliness. No step is performed in excess; dancers embody precision without the slightest hint of indulgence. Ihsan Rustem’s Of Then and Now starts the evening off with captivating expression.

Whim W’Him dancers Cameron Birts (center), Mia Monteabaro and Jim Kent in Ihsan Rustem’s Of Then and Now. Photo credit: Stefano Altamura.

In addition to Rustem, Whim W’him’s XPRESS features world premieres from Sidra Bell and Artistic Director Olivier Wevers. This program makes for an engaging night that features elements of the company’s recognizable style (plenty of slides in socks and challenging partnering), as well as moments that show off the dancers in surprising ways, like rhythmic pulsating movements in the torso. As always, the dancers perform phenomenally. Time and time again they prove that they are masterful artists any choreographer would be lucky to work with. 

Of Then and Now is Rustem’s third creation for Whim W’him, and he uses this piece to explore a range of movement vocabulary, creating an enticing world of storytelling. Layered with the beginning solos are casual pedestrian noises from the dancers, juxtaposing the otherwise serious choral soundtrack. These solos begin to poke fun at the everyday. Moments of mimed typing, driving, and getting ready are sprinkled amongst recognizable dance steps. One dancer exclaims, “You are beautiful” into an imaginary mirror before performing sped up versions of daily actions. Hazy lighting sets the work in a soft focus lens, offering a fuzzy version of reality that syncs well to the hastened daily journeys. 

The piece flows seamlessly through different movement vocabularies. A quirky duet between Jane Cracovaner and Adrian Hoffman mimics a flirty couple dancing to rock music at a bar. There’s an effective play and sincerity within both lighthearted moments and heavy ones. Toe rolls (rolling over the toes to the floor, as well as rising out of the floor over the toes) infiltrate later choreography, restyled from their often cheesy execution in angsty recital dances to flow along with group phrases and unlock new movement pathways. The skill of the dancers gleams in each moment. Watching Jim Kent do a second position plié relevé alone could floor an audience. His full-bodied articulation, paired with a daring, focused gaze make even the simplest steps a treat to watch.

One of the most interesting elements of this piece is when the dancers face forward and mouth inaudible words along with their movement. It reads somewhat like a monologue, and though we can’t hear it we know it’s for us. This ties the piece together with a form of content-less narration, suggesting that the story of the performers is progressing in front of us. It is a clever way to case an already well-constructed piece. Of Then and Now is my favorite piece of the night for its creative composition.

Whim W’Him dancers Liane Aung and Adrian Hoffman in Sidra Bell’s Behavioral Skins. Photo credit: Stefano Altamura.

Sidra Bell’s Behavioral Skins is excellently danced, but doesn’t deliver choreographically. The framing of the dance is very intense (sharp lighting, creepy soundtrack, program notes with phrases like “nothing static”), yet the choreography doesn’t match it. It feels as though I am being told to believe the environment is intense as an audience member, but there is no evidence in the dancing to support that. A lot of the unison choreography seems to rely on one formula—something along the lines of move twice, change facing, do a deep plié, reference ballet, elongate a movement, make a quick change—and this pattern of similar movement becomes predictable over time without contributing to the build of the piece. 

One exception to the choreographic monotony is a moment in which Liane Aung stands straight up on Hoffman’s back as he slowly crawls. A striking image that illuminates how much control the dancers are capable of.

Blind Spot closes the night with choreography from Wevers, questioning “What happens when we fail to see differences and struggle to regain our kinship.” This work changes frequently, using the placement and color of a large round light suspended over the middle of the stage to indicate different stages of the work. One of the most exciting aspects of this piece is crafty multi-level partnering. Wevers incorporates the full cast of seven into partnering sequences layered with multiple lifts, each dancer playing an individualized role that creates some really incredible group moments of spiral and swirl. Each dancer is necessary to the formation and swallowed into the larger whole. 

Whim W’Him dancer Mia Monteabaro (center) and company dancers in Olivier Wevers’ Blind Spot. Photo credit: Stefano Altamura.

This work effectively builds intensity in the ways that Behavioral Skins did not. The choreography is dynamic, eating up the space and changing often but maintaining tone. There is risk and climatic build within the steps. Strong duets of momentus partnering and solos of technical intricacy hone the directives of different dancers before the group unites in energetic moments of unison. Blind Spot is a compelling note to end the night on.

Whim W’him’s XPRESS continues this weekend, January 24 and 25, at Cornish Playhouse. Tickets available here.