Seattle composer Eric Banks and choreographer Olivier Wevers bring Whim W'Him and the Esoterics together in a Cavafy-inspired dance-choral fusion that repeats May 19 and 20.
What bliss for dancers to have such a beautiful score to dance to — and what a privilege for musicians to have such stunning dancers moving to their sounds.
“Approaching Ecstasy,” a co-creation of composer Eric Banks and choreographer Olivier Wevers, is inspired by the verse of Greek-Alexandrian poet C.P. Cavafy. Performed by Wevers’ dance troupe Whim W’Him and Banks’ choral group the Esoterics (accompanied by the St. Helens String Quartet with guest violinist Michael Lim), the 90-minute piece exquisitely fuses dance and sound into an organic whole.
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It establishes its ebb-and-surge rhythm by alternating between English versions of the poems and the original Greek. The English translations (by Banks) are sung a-cappella with an almost hymnal simplicity and clarity by smaller groups of singers. The Greek is taken on by the whole chorus, with supporting melodies from the string players (a traditional string quartet, plus harp), striking more complex notes of layered, otherworldly melancholy.
Wevers follows an elegiac mode throughout, with the dancers in continual looping action, whether it’s in duets with each other or in interactions with inanimate objects (Andrew Bartee making a small table both his cage and his dance partner, for instance). Repeatedly, the dancers make their formidable muscular strength look relaxed and elastic, creating fluent illusions of weightless levitation.
Wevers’ staging of Cavafy’s back-street trysts and heated erotic memories is always more suggestive than explicit. In “Out of Their Bed,” Bartee, Lucien Postlewaite and Shane Ohmer (a potent new addition to Whim W’Him) lift their shirt collars to their faces to inhale them: a memory of sex that just happened, rather than a re-enactment of the sex itself. In “Bodies,” instead of re-creating a late-night encounter literally, Wevers has Ohmer deliver a giddy, long-limbed solo that somehow embodies the jubilant pull of flesh to flesh without going into anatomical specifics.
“Ecstasy” is visually sumptuous as well. Jeff Forbes’ lighting has a candle-flame warmth and shadowiness. Casey Curran’s set design uses minimal tricks for maximum effect. He makes a “mirror” (a simple hanging frame) come alive as Postlewaite and Bartee “reflect” each other in it — and his translucent walls-on-wheels are constantly on the move from poem to poem, letting you follow the dance action when blurred figures are behind them. Fine visuals, fine dance, fine score — “Approaching Ecstasy” has it all.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org