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More is More for Whim W’Him

Written by Christin Call
Whim W’Him dancers in CRAVE by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
Photo by Bamberg Fine Art
Crave More, a new mixed bill from Whim W’Him, opened at the Playhouse at Seattle Center (formerly the Intiman) on Friday January 18, 2013. Olivier Wevers premiered a new work, More created on Andrew Bartee and introduced Seattle to his work The Sofa, commissioned by Grand Rapids Ballet (where former PNB colleague Patricia Barker is Artistic Director). Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, an unofficial resident choreographer of the company, premiered a new work created for three men and two women. She also presented and danced in Before Afterwith Lucien Postlewaite, a work from 2002 that was a keystone in her professional success.
Whim W’Him dancers in Wevers’ The Sofa
Photo by Bamberg Fine Art

Wevers is startling in many ways. His work is robust both in the abundance of his works and in his majestic sense of the balletic vocabulary, like a constantly rotating display case of prismatic gems in which their seemingly changing colors can’t quite be identified. The Sofa has the froth and ebullience of Fragonard, indulging in ballet’s aristocratic and decadent roots. A young couple, flawlessly portrayed by Yuka Oba and Nick Schultz of Grand Rapids Ballet, must navigate through the wound-opening territory of a lover’s spat while a gaggle of mischievous onlookers scurry in their white-socked feet like Cupids’ wings. The tone is playful, the choreography effervescent as champagne, especially when the corps pairs off in an extended canon of partnering. The fanfare is contagious and the sofa is at last hoisted up on ropes as if in homage to Fragonard’s painting “The Swing.” What makes the work resonate is its quieter middle section, where the characters grapple with their own selfishness. 
Ochoa’s new work for the company seems to follow a strain also being explored by regional choreographers like Kate Wallich and Tahni Holt of Portland—youth culture, its collective allegiance to non-allegiance, its throwaway glitz, and consuming desire for both ubiquity and fame. Ochoa’s is an outside perspective looking in, and so, when the illusion is broken, as when the green LED lights turn off and bleak overheads come up, we see a scapegoat created in order to avoid confronting that loneliness. The work’s structure is adroit at starting with a few motifs that look like club dancing, expanding out into a variety of complex and interdependent constructions, collapsing back into the motifs that now have added mean, and repeating this process. It was a pleasure to see Lara Seefeldt, a powerhouse of a mover, return to the stage and, though paired with Postlewaite in a whip smart duet, almost appear to partner herself. Tori Peil danced with exceptional looseness and abandon, embodying the sumptuousness of removed inhibitions and the ragged dynamism of ulterior substances influencing the body physically. Perhaps some of the “don’t touch me” moments, which were too overwrought, could have been tempered by a portrayal of uncertainty or anxiety of going against the groupthink. This would have given the dancers more complexity to work with, as well as shown more compassion in its viewpoint.
Lucien Postelwaite and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa in Before AfterPhoto by Bamberg Fine Art  

In Before After Ochoa herself took the stage. She is a force to be reckoned with, and her severe, laser-like precision belied (and perhaps undid) the emotional underpinnings of the work. The piece is strongly Forsythe-inspired, bursting at the seams with extreme extensions and bravura partnering. 
The flat note of the evening was More, a solo performed by Andrew Bartee. With drab grey clothing strewn about the floor, couldn’t it just be about how we all hate to do the laundry? It might just be more clever than Wevers’ metaphor of the one pink shirt in the bunch as desire/the self.  Bartee continues to amaze as a kind of manic contortionist colt turned dancer, but the Hulk-like tearing of the shirt and screaming was melodramatic and the choreography dragged behind the slow-build of the Ravel score. Unfortunately, Seattle has too recently seen quite a few renditions of the Bolero music (Allie Hankins, Waxie Moon, Zoe Scofield) used with far more imagination.

Crave More does not exactly do as its title implies, but is nevertheless a satisfying program. The excellent choreography, dancing, and production value hold an inherent promise that there will be more to come from this Emerald City company. It’s good to be a Seattleite.