For Whim W’Him’s Olivier Wevers, A New Dance is Life or Death
No one needs to tell choreographer Olivier Wevers that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. On the same bill with his death penalty dance, thrOwn, this weekend at the Intiman, are two lighter works: la langue de l’amour, a “very naughty” solo for Chalnessa Eames; and Flower Festival, with August Bournonville’s flirtatious, teasing pas de deux, Flower Festival in Genzano, re-imagined for two men who begin the dance in suits, but then there arises a “jousting” feeling, says Wevers, promising very “kinetic” movement.
Still, Cast the First Rock in Twenty Twelve (January 20-22, tickets: $25 in advance) will likely come to feel all of a thematic piece–if, as Wevers tells me, he took up the idea of death by stoning as a metaphor for capital punishment, there remain places in the world where his accompanying “quirky comedies” could prompt arrest for moral turpitude. thrOwn is not political, Wevers is careful to say, in the sense of tsking at Islamic theocracies from an elevated moral plane. He wants instead to explore the continuum of judgment that leads from personal disapproval to condemnation at the hands of society.
In thrOwn, the always entrancing Chalnessa Eames plays a married woman who has an affair (Lucien Postlewaite is the lover, Andrew Bartee the betrayed husband). The music, blending traditional and contemporary styles, includes compositions from Iranian-American composers and Canadian anarchists Godspeed You! Black Emperor–”rebels,” says Wevers, happily–and the set is based upon the art of Steve Jensen. (Not just “based”–Jensen worked on it for three weeks with a scenic painter.) Costumes are by Christine Joly de Lotbinière.
It’s also, Wevers, a former Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer, notes, his first barefoot dance. (Not to worry, bunhead-heads, Eames’ solo may be naughty but it is en pointe, set to harpsichord music by Scarlatti.)
I procured all this information from Wevers at a break in rehearsal. He was working with Eames and Tory Peil on specific movements, with a kind of specificity that is daunting to describe. “Really try to get the elbows,” he called out to Eames, who immediately reacted, and “Keep your knees together.” Eames danced backward, looking over her shoulder. “Find a hole,” Wevers said, and leaning backward, she planted her right arm, and spiraled down to the floor. Wevers walked over for a huddle. “I thought you said…,” Eames told him, showing a move. “Use your hand, but keep down,” clarified Wevers. “Ohhh…that’s harder,” said Eames. Wevers waited expectantly to see it again, Eames calling out her discoveries as she went along.
In performance, this transition will take about five seconds, and it will look as natural as turning a doorknob. Next, Eames and Peil polished the end of a dance the two have. “Did I set that?” wondered Wevers about a lift at the end. “No,” admitted Peil, “it felt better for me to lift her.” “It’s good!” said Wevers. He demonstrated an almost Chaplinesque broken-kneed walk for Eames–”Agh!” flinched Eames. “That’s gross.”
By next season, Wevers hopes Whim W’Him will be performing longer runs–this weekend is your one shot to catch “Cast the First Rock”–and leaving town on tours. Given the acclaim of 2011, as recapped by Michael Upchurch in the Seattle Times:
In August, Wevers won a Princess Grace Foundation Choreography Fellowship for a work to be set on Seattle’s Spectrum Dance Theater. (Zoe Scofield won the only other PGF Choreography Fellowship, making it a clean sweep for Seattle.) In November, for the second year in a row, Wevers and Whim W’Him won the annual Dance Under the Stars choreography competition in Palm Desert, Calif., with “Monster.” Whim W’Him’s “FRAGMENTS” got the grand prize in 2010.
…Whim W’Him seems to be developing right on schedule.