Seattle's Whim W'Him performs dances by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Olivier Wevers at the troupe's new Intiman Theatre home.
Olivier Wevers, principal dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet and founder of the dance company Whim W’Him, has a beaming, boyish air when you talk to him.
So when the Belgian-born choreographer says of one of his new pieces, “I’m exploring my dark side,” you can’t help wondering: Dark side? How can such a sweet, chipper-looking fellow have a dark side?
Still, a thread of something twisted or taboo runs through much of his choreography, and in his new triptych, “Monster,” it sounds as though it has come to the forefront.
“Monster” is part of a mixed-repertoire program, “Shadows, Raincoats and Monsters,” happening next weekend, that marks two big new developments for Whim W’Him.
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It’s the first show to be presented at Intiman Theatre, where artistic director Kate Whoriskey recently announced a five-year partnership with Wevers’ company. And it’s the first time Whim W’Him will present work by someone other than Wevers.
What’s the significance of Whim W’Him’s new alliance with Intiman?
“It means we have a home,” Wevers said in an interview at PNB last month. He had known he wanted his company to perform at Intiman (“I love the space”), but he assumed he would have to rent it.
When Whoriskey got wind of his rental inquiry, she investigated the company and apparently liked what she saw. After she and Wevers talked about collaborating, Whoriskey came up with a five-year plan for the two organizations to join forces.
“Financially, it’s huge for our budget, since we don’t have the rental fee of the theater,” Wevers says. “She’s really doing it because she believes in what we’re doing, and she has infrastructure. So she’s offering that to us, which is a huge gift.”
Next weekend’s program will probably be followed up with another mixed-repertory show in the summer.
The story behind choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s setting of a work on his dancers is a little more offbeat. All along, his plan for Whim W’Him has been to include dance by outside choreographers, and he’s a longtime Ochoa fan: “She has a sense of spontaneity in her work, and imagery and theater, that is really appealing to me.”
So he took a shot in the dark and contacted her through Facebook, telling her he was a dancer in Seattle who admired her work and “just wanted to say hi.”
He didn’t quite expect the answer he got from the half-Belgian, half-Colombian Ochoa: “She told me later that she doesn’t usually accept people on Facebook that she doesn’t know. But she looked at my profile and she saw that we went to the same high school in Belgium.”
What, she wondered, could that mean?
“Actually,” Wevers laughs, “she was worried that I was one of the boys she would have kissed — and she couldn’t remember.” (They hadn’t.)
When Wevers sent her a DVD of his 2010 work, “3Seasons,” saying he’d just started a company and asking if she’d be interested in working with them, her response was immediate. His dancers, who include stellar performers from both PNB and Spectrum Dance Theater, were “phenomenal,” she said — and the dates she had free matched Whim W’Him’s rehearsal dates exactly (although she did have to sacrifice a vacation in Bali to make it work).
Wevers’ feeling, given the coincidences involved, is that it was meant to happen.
Wevers, who until now has stuck strictly to his choreographer’s role with Whim W’Him, will be dancing in Ochoa’s piece, “Cylindrical Shadows.”
“I’m free labor,” he jokes. He’d been planning on being part of it in the creation process, then passing on his role to someone else. But Ochoa convinced him he should stay in it. “Shadows,” when I saw it in rehearsal last summer, seemed a complex, elastic exploration of connection and disruption, built from some great athletic partnering.
Wevers’ own “Monster” and “This Is Not a Raincoat” complete the program. “Monster” is a triptych, the first part of which was seen at Men in Dance in October. In a series of three pas de deux, it takes on addiction and tempestuous relationships, as well as homophobic bullying and internalized homophobia. RA Scion (of the hip-hop duo Common Market) provides spoken-word introductions to each section. On the recordings Wevers plays, there’s almost as much Roethke as rap to Scion’s pointed rhymes.
Wevers, who is married to fellow PNB and Whim W’Him dancer Lucien Postlewaite, says of the three-part dance: “I guess it comes from my own experience — my own witnessing of those things.”
The segments, he adds, were “kind of a puzzle to put together. It was important that they had a sense of continuity, but with high contrast.”
Having tapped into these dark visions, he can sense others on the horizon. “It’s like the seven deadly sins,” he quips. “There’s a lot of monsters out there.”
“Raincoat,” for five dancers, is a more abstract piece. It was inspired by Belgian artist René Magritte, particularly his painting “Hegel’s Holiday,” depicting an umbrella with a cup of water on top of it. It deals, in part, with “the treachery of images,” Wevers says, as well as the concealing guises we take on and discard. Only when you take those “raincoats” off, he adds, can you create a relationship “by really showing who you are.”
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org