Andrew Bartee is a notable member of the corps in Pacific Northwest Ballet.
But in Olivier Wevers’ contemporary dance troupe, Whim W’Him, he’s a bona fide star.
He seems to have a whole orchestra of muscle-movement “instruments” at his command under his skin, each with its own individual voice and inflection. And together they know exactly how to draw the most extraordinary visual and rhythmic music from each inch of his lanky, fluid body.
In Whim W’Him’s latest show, “Third Degree,” Bartee is most spectacular in “L’Effleure,” choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, whose work Wevers has championed in Seattle.
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Set to a Vivaldi score, “L’Effleure” opens with Bartee in gleaming half-silhouette (the title, as the program explains, is a play on the French words for “flower” and “one who has been gently touched, caressed”). The variety, control and detail of his actions, as he unspools himself in response to the music, are truly mesmerizing. There’s a latent violence in his eddying elegance, too, that lends the piece a stinging edge. The crowning touch: he performs the whole thing with a red rose clenched in his mouth (let’s hope someone trimmed the thorns beforehand).
Bartee also shines in this showcase as a choreographer. “This Is Real,” his brand-new piece for three dancers, explores “a situation between close friends that makes you uncomfortable.” The friends are Mia Monteabaro and Tory Peil, who are happy in their tightly synchronized, slightly goofy, occasionally snippety pas-de-deux world — until Sergey Kheylik enters the picture.
Kheylik (a terrific new addition to the Whim W’Him lineup) has a cocky, scrappy, alpha-male insolence about him, and both women notice him the minute he assumes his spot onstage. Peil, after a moment, goes for him — and it’s soon obvious that someone is going to end up the third wheel here. But it isn’t always predictable who it will be at any given moment.
“Real” is crisply crafted, with a quirky dramatic arc, and some potent partnerwork between Peil and Kheylik as they take turns tangling and tumbling with each other.
The other world premiere on the program is Wevers’ “I Don’t Remember a Spark.” It had its starting point in a hard-pressing interview Wevers engaged in with a Seattle journalist. We don’t hear her questions, but his responses are sliced and diced into a sound collage by composer Brian Lawlor.
“Spark” neatly sidesteps being a navel-gazing exercise, thanks to the Wevers/Lawlor score which works atmospherically as music (both its sound effects and its actual musical notes) even as it’s filled with Wevers’ disclosures about “creative process, insecurities, wishes, pet peeves.”
Humor helps — that list of “pet peeves” is hilarious — and Wevers’ way with props and patterning keeps “Spark” continually on the move and constantly visually engaging. The personal baggage of his five dancers — Bartee, Kheylik, Monteabaro, Peil and Lara Seefeldt — takes the form of two suitcases for each of them to tote around. But rather than seeming heavy-handed, this adds a dash of the surreal to the proceedings, in part because all 10 suitcases are painted white and don’t quite seem of this world.
Wevers’ voice-over obsessions aren’t just focused on himself but on the “amazing understanding” his dancers have of their bodies — an understanding they show off expertly throughout “Spark,” in shifting configurations that don’t overtly illustrate the text, yet seem to comment on it and synchronize with it obliquely. An early Wevers work, “FRAGMENTS,” rounds out the program.
All the work in “Third Degree” is strong. But see it for Bartee. He truly has leapt to a new level as a performer here.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org