Written by Gal Snir
For their 11th season, Whim W’Him has been collaborating with New York-based movement photographer and choreographer Quinn Wharton to publish original dance films on the company’s new online streaming platform, IN-With-WHIM. The latest release is a film adaptation of the 2019 company work This Is Not The Little Prince, choreographed by the company’s Artistic Director, Olivier Wevers. Drawing on inspiration from Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince and surrealist artist René Magritte’s painting “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” Wevers explores the life of Saint-Exupéry and the experiences that influenced him to write his most famous book.
The film opens with a slow-motion zoomed in shot of dancer Karl Watson sitting at white table, frantically scrawling on multiple pieces of paper. A closer shot shows a drawing similar to the “hat” illustration that opens Le Petit Prince, signaling to the viewer that perhaps Watson is meant to be portraying the author Saint-Exupéry himself. Unbeknownst to Watson, Jim Kent, a second dancer, saunters around Watson, playing an accordion and trying to get Watson’s attention. When these efforts prove fruitless, Kent physically demands his attention and the two fall into a duet. Like a tired parent and exuberant child, Kent continuously pokes, nudges and redirects Watson’s direction with increasing playfulness. Dressed in matching costumes, Kent seems to portray the inner-child or perhaps the actual younger version of Saint-Exupéry. Watson allows Kent to trot him around the stage, always responding to Kent’s movements but never initiating them. His going-through-the-motions attitude in their duet brings to life the kind of relationship, or lack thereof, the author had with his younger self at the time. Watson seems unbothered by this manipulation, his expression remaining vacant and somber until Kent repeatedly pushes Watson in the chest with his foot. Watson, rocked back and forth in his chair, becomes more and more present with each blow, eventually falling backwards. Switching to a gray ocean shore through film magic, Watson tumbles onto wet sand in a nod to the transportive power of the book. From here on, Watson and the audience will experience this world through the imaginative minds they held as children.
Watson later finds himself back on the low-lit stage, engaged in a new duet. Liane Aung, adorned in an all-red dress, a red handkerchief scarf, and bright red heels, is the more powerful of the two–her expression ever-so-slightly sinister as she tangos around the floor with Watson, demanding more and more weight from him. The music around them, originally composed by Brian Lawlor, intensifies from a soft piano to a powerful ballad, as Aung’s intoxication over Watson grows dangerous. The notes strike the loudest when Aung pulls off the red handkerchief, chokes Watson with it and exits the stage, leaving him alone and in pain.
The duo likely represents the tumultuous relationship that Saint-Exupéry’ shared with his wife, Consuelo, with Aung’s red-everything reminiscent of the red rose in Le Petit Prince, which is theorized to represent Consuelo as well. At one point Kent is also drawn in by Aung’s manipulations, which leave him hiding in a fetal position like a scared child. Highlighting the complex and toxic relationship through duets with both Watson and Kent, Wevers seems to be pondering how this love affected Saint-Exupéry as well as his inner-child.
The journey of This Is Not The Little Prince also explores the significant roles of war and military service in Saint-Exupéry’s life. As smoke overtakes the stage and madness ensues, four militarized dancers march in unison. Watson embraces an injured Kent through the chaos and the scene ends with Watson peering quizzically at a miniature doll scene of a family huddled together around an old radio. Wevers and Wharton avoid portraying this period of time word-for-word, instead conveying its major effects on the author’s life through the choreography and symbolism. Kent as a fallen soldier feels like loss of innocence. The doll scene perhaps the depersonalization that Saint-Exupéry may have experienced in response to the trauma of war.
Shortly following, Andrew Mcshea takes the stage in a long dark trenchcoat and hat. His movements are dizzying, sneaky, and smooth. As he slithers, twists and turns, he leaves his hat in various places on the floor and each time he does, Kent is there to look underneath, unveiling miniature versions of images from earlier in the work–Kent’s accordion and Aung’s red heels. The way these objects call forth the past in a subtle manner, after a chaotic and emotionally charged portrayal of the war, suggest Saint-Exupéry’s process of self-discovery after trauma. Kent gives the miniature accordion to Watson, and the object transforms into the actual instrument. A joyful expression fills Watson’s face and appears genuinely content for the first time.
A final duet between Watson and Kent shows a transformation from their earlier relationship. Weight is shared equally and Kent’s playfulness is now noticeable in both characters. Once Kent exits the stage, Watson is left to continue the movements whilst the film flashes back to moments from earlier scenes. Right at the end, the white table reappears on the stage with Watson, upright now, with a mirror-like material on the underside of it. Watson kneels in front of it and when peering at himself, Kent’s reflection peers back at him, smiling.
This Is Not The Little Prince is a look into Saint-Exupéry’s life and writing influences. But moreso, it is a story of homecoming. A return to creativity and imagination that was once most embodied in us as children and in spite of life’s inevitable pain, still exists in us and is ours to access again.
To find out more about Whim W’him and subscribe to their ongoing virtual season, visit www.whimwhim.org.