Seattle choreographer Olivier Wevers and his company Whim W'Him follow up an award-filled 2011 with two cheeky new dances, "La langue de l'amour" and "Flower Festival," and one more sobering and ambitious piece, "ThrOwn."
Seattle choreographer Olivier Wevers and his company, Whim W’Him, had quite a year in 2011.
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.
With Wevers and his company going from strength to strength, Seattle dance fans will naturally want to check in with them. They’ll get their chance next weekend when three new Wevers dances — two of them playful, one intense and sobering — are premiered at “Cast the First Rock in Twenty Twelve.”
Fun stuff first: In “La langue de l’amour,” former Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer Chalnessa Eames will deliver a “naughty, frivolous, worldly” solo turn in what Wevers & Co. are calling “a structured whisper of a costume,” while PNB dancers Lucien Postlewaite and Andrew Bartee match dance wits in “Flower Festival.”
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In rehearsal last week, “Flower Festival” looked like a virtuosic riot of a piece. It’s a subversion of one of the chestnuts of classical ballet, August Bournonville’s pas de deux “Flower Festival in Genzano” from his 1842 ballet “Napoli.” Wevers has exchanged the “flirty” male-female dynamic of the duet for a poker-faced showdown between two guys in smart suits and colorful shirts and ties.
“It’s kind of a striptease,” Wevers said in a post-rehearsal chat, “and it’s kind of a fight, a competition. … It’s really about the movement quality, I think.”
It’s also about wacky, exaggerated facial expression.
“My thought behind that,” Wevers says, “is that we don’t use our face enough in dancing. I see a lot of beautiful dancers, but nothing’s happening in the face. I want to see more expressions. … We have more muscles in our face than anywhere else on our bodies, so why not use those?”
“ThrOwn,” the most ambitious work on the program, will be more elaborately staged and far more sobering. It features five dancers — surrounded by a swirling painted set, courtesy of Steve Jensen — and focuses on condemnation and punishment. Eames plays the breaker of taboo who comes in for a brutal judgment.
“The death penalty’s always been fascinating to me, since I moved to this country,” Wevers reveals. “I come from Belgium, which doesn’t have it.”
He adds: “It’s in our human nature to be judgmental. I walk in a room and I kind of assess: ‘How comfortable am I in this room? Should I be more reserved? Can I be myself?’ … Everything that we do is a decision that we base on what we’re comfortable with or not.”
The eccentric capitalization of “ThrOwn” draws out the “own” in Wevers’ title, stressing the punishers’ feeling that they control the rights to the transgressor’s behavior.
“It’s that righteous ownership of our own perspective of what the world is,” Wevers says. “We would like that everybody else fits exactly that same mold. But nobody does.”
“Cast the First Rock” is just the beginning of a busy 2012 for Wevers. He also has commissions for BalletX in Philadelphia, Grand Rapids Ballet Company in Michigan and, of course, Spectrum.
Here’s a choreographer who’s well on his way.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org