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New Year, New Whims

2015 promises to be a good year for Whim W’Him. The contemporary dance company, led by Artistic Director Olivier Wevers, has added a third rep to its season and several more weeks to its dancers’ contracts. Of the nine premieres slated for 2015, seven will be by new choreographers. THREEFOLD (January 16-18 at Cornish Playhouse) opened the season with a hint of what Whim W’Him looks like when most of the choreographers come from outside the company, and it was a strong first impression for the year. Wevers’ work stood alongside offerings from established contemporary/contemporary ballet choreographers Loni Landon and Penny Saunders. Seeing the three together gave a glimpse at the company’s range: Wevers’ choreography provided Whim W’Him’s core aesthetic, while Landon and Saunders’ works showed the breadth of the performers’ talents.

Jim Kent and Justin Reiter in Olivier Wevers' We are not the same Photo by Bamberg Fine Art
Jim Kent and Justin Reiter in Olivier Wevers’ We are not the same
Photo by Bamberg Fine Art

We are not the same, Wevers’ offering for the evening, proved an exemplar of the prevailing Whim W’Him look. His choreography spirals and tangles the dancers’ limbs with a logic that reveals itself the more one sees of his work. This can be a double-edged sword: the choreography can be recognizable yet inventive, or it can be recognizable and just a little bit predictable. Not the same had elements of both. The work contained overlapping duets for two couples: Jim Kent and Justin Reiter, Kyle Johnson and Tory Peil. Kent and Reiter’s partnership showed the best of Wevers’ talent, with their off-balance weight sharing leading to seemingly endless possibilities for movement. Johnson and Peil’s choreography didn’t have quite the same spark; it followed the logic without stopping to explore as many new roads from one movement to the next. Nevertheless, the stark difference in partnerships shed a new light on the title. Is “we are not the same” a comparison of individuals in one partnership, or a comparison between two couples? When both duets danced the same phrase at the end, the question seemed to apply to two very human couples. On the one hand, a couple who coalesces because of how they work through tension and compromise; on the other, a couple who experiences moments of beauty and passion, but never quite jells for the long term.

Mia Monteabaro and Justin Reiter in Loni Landon's new year new you Photo by Molly Magee of Bamberg Fine Art
Mia Monteabaro and Justin Reiter in Loni Landon’s new year new you
Photo by Molly Magee of Bamberg Fine Art

Aesthetically, much of the movement in Landon’s new year new you had a family resemblance to Wevers’ choreography, perhaps a result of her making choreography from improvisation with Wevers’ dancers. However, the syntax was different, with fresh transitions and pacing. The work began with a solo for Reiter. New to Whim W’Him but familiar in Seattle for his past work with Spectrum Dance Theater, Reiter was the standout performer of the night. His movement quality adds something fresh to the ensemble; his presence on stage is subtle but firm, and oh-so-expressive. (He also made the first impression in Wevers’ piece with an especially emotive torso—not just the spine, but the front of his body spoke volumes.) In new year, he was joined by Kent and Mia Monteabaro in “an abstract meditation on the dubious resolutions we make each year.” The three performers acted as one body, the intricate movement initiations sequencing through their composite form as if they had the same blood flowing through their veins. Monteabaro had a lovely solo moment moving through long extensions, tips, and rolls that set a somber tone before a 1940s-sounding New Years song introduced a false sense of cheer, even anxiety. Where was the work headed? But suddenly: a loud pop, and a shower of golden streamers arced over Reiter, alone again on stage. The audience started and laughed (in relief? in delight?), and the moment of gold shining in the fading light captured hope for a new year but also something darker—wistfulness, nostalgia, wariness for the future.

Tory Peil and Thomas Phelan in Penny Saunders' Soir Bleu Photo by Bamberg Fine Art
Tory Peil and Thomas Phelan in Penny Saunders’ Soir Bleu
Photo by Bamberg Fine Art

The most engrossing dance of the evening was Saunders’ Soir Bleu, inspired by an Edward Hopper painting of the same name. The whole company shone on stage in this varied, episodic little ballet. A few spare set pieces—a mirrored wall set upstage and a window frame and curtain diagonally opposite—helped create a neighborhood feel (the painting depicts a Paris café), and Saunders integrated them into her choreography to great effect. A duet with Peil in front of the window and Thomas Phelan reaching through the frame to touch her suggested a longed-for but unachieved intimacy. This moment evolved into a memorable ensemble section with the dancers in a line that rippled and fractured in canon as it worked its way across the stage, culminating in all seven dancers lined up against the wall. Each dancer appeared alone as an individual, yet the common thread of their choreography tied their fates together. That uncertain sense of intimacy returned in a moving duet between Johnson and Lara Seefeldt; Seefeldt was especially breathtaking in expressing those unnamable emotions.

Saunder’s choreography in Soir Bleu was composed of discrete movements and moments that linked together in a clear chain of events. This different sense of flow set hers apart from Wevers’ and Landon’s works and made a satisfying conclusion to the evening, especially with the whole ensemble on stage. Still, the entire program made a pleasing arc—any complaints about Wevers’ piece for having a few predictable moments comes with the acknowledgement that such a critique is borne out of familiarity with his work. Landon and Saunders, as choreographer-guests, have the benefit of being seen with new eyes. It was precisely the variety in how each choreographer used their own style and sense of movement logic that made THREEFOLD such a strong show. It paves the way for a season that has the potential to show Whim W’Him in its native glory, and indicates Wevers’ willingness to invite new voices to chart new aesthetic territory with his talented roster of dancers.


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