Whim W'him, a new Seattle-based dance company headed by Pacific Northwest Ballet's Olivier Wevers, fuses modern dance and ballet.
For Seattle dance lovers, the members of Whim W’Him, a newly founded Seattle dance company, are a known quantity.
They’re four stellar performers from Pacific Northwest Ballet (Chalnessa Eames, Kaori Nakamura, Jonathan Porretta, Lucien Postlewaite), another gifted quartet from Spectrum Dancer Theater (Ty Alexander Cheng, Hannah Lagerway, Kylie Lewallen, Vincent Lopez), and an eye-catching loner, Jim Kent, who has danced with Mark Haim (“Goldberg Variations”) and Scott/Powell Performance.
The Brussels-born artistic director of the company, Olivier Wevers, is well-known, too — but as a principal dancer with PNB, not the leader of a new arts organization.
True, he has choreographed some beguiling pieces for PNB and Spectrum, but will that translate into being able to run a new dance company?
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Wevers, with a laugh, acknowledges it took strong prompting from friends and colleagues at PNB to make it happen: “They know that I’ve been holding back, because I knew — I thought I knew — how much work it would be.”
Their feeling was that he just had to do it — and that they wanted to be part of it.
“So,” Wevers shrugs, “peer pressure, I guess.”
Peer pressure promises to pay off handsomely next weekend, when Whim W’Him presents its first full-length evening of work at On the Boards. The lineup consists of three Wevers pieces: “FRAGMENTS,” originally done for Spectrum; “X stasis,” which premiered at the 2006 PNB Choreographers Showcase; and a new work, “3Seasons,” set to Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” (with a bit of contemporary musical intervention by Seattle composer Byron Au Yong).
“3Seasons,” in rehearsal, looks like Wevers’ most ambitious project yet. It expands his movement vocabulary exponentially, as its dancers’ staggered steps snap into unison and their precision-timed tag-team partnering goes almost faster than you can see.
Wevers had long wanted to set a dance to “The Four Seasons,” but realized that with such a familiar score he needed to do “something that’s really my own and different.”
His original notion was to randomly drop one of the seasons every night, in a comment on weather aberrations brought about by climate change. But he and his dancers didn’t like the idea of choreographing all four movements only to skip one each night.
Enter Au Yong who, at Wevers’ request, composed a score identical in structure to Vivaldi’s. At every performance, one of Au Yong’s movements will be substituted for Vivaldi’s, thus changing “the energy, the atmosphere of that specific season,” Wevers says.
As the piece evolved, “3Seasons” became less about climate change and more about “the disposable society.” Wevers drew the dancers into the theatrics of the piece by asking them if there was something they really loved but didn’t really need.
Lagerway instantly responded: “Oh, my high heels. I have so many pairs of high heels, I don’t need any more. But I love to buy more.”
A lamp, a pillow and a birdcage are among the objects that distract the dancers. Also: “A pair of pants — we wanted some kind of clothing in there. A computer keyboard — we wanted something electronic. A revolver — just because I have one.”
Whim W’Him is a family-and-friends affair. Its lineup includes Wevers’ husband, Lucien Postlewaite, and his best friend/former wife, Nakamura, along with friends made over the years at PNB and through his recent work with Spectrum.
“Those are people that I admire, that I respect, that I love to work with.” He jokes that Postlewaite’s and Nakamura’s involvement is a bit of a double-edged sword: “They really inspire me, but they’re the first ones to also be: ‘Hey, what are you doing, here?’ They’re keeping me in check.”
Lagerway, who recently left Spectrum to dance with Lisbon-based Quorum Ballet, praises Wevers’ “rare clarity in explaining the movement and musicality that he would like. The challenge is making your body do it!”
“It’s hard,” Wevers acknowledges. “In your head, nothing is impossible.”
Lagerway adds, “The company has developed code words for some of the more iconic movements and phrases. This is partly for fun and partly to remember the vast amounts of detail. Some of them are probably unfit to print, though!”
PNB’s Eames notes: “Everyone is helping each other out. For example, if there is a movement that does not feel comfortable to me, particularly because of my training, I can ask Hannah or Kylie for help.” She admits that Wevers’ movement is so “specific” that it can be difficult to grasp. “But when it happens and I get it, it feels so natural — and best of all, fun.”
While the On the Boards show is an all-Wevers showcase, the long-term agenda for Whim W’Him is to facilitate international collaboration.
“There are a few choreographers that I want to bring to Seattle,” he says, “I really love their work and I think this would be a great venue, because of the dancers being so talented, being so versatile.”
What about Wevers’ own dancing? Can we expect to see him onstage with Whim W’Him?
“Probably never,” he laughs. His hands are full, he says, with choreographing, fundraising and administration.
Porretta thinks that’s a shame: “He looks incredible doing his own choreography. It’s very hard to duplicate.”
But Wevers is adamant: “I’m already stretching myself now, doing everything!”
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org