Stellar dancers, and a mostly stellar lineup of dance works, make Whim W’Him’s “Crave More” a must-see for dance lovers this weekend.
For one thing, it’s a chance to catch former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Lucien Postlewaite in two pieces, both by Belgian-Colombian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa.
The stunner of the two is Ochoa’s 2002 duet, “Before After,” originally made for Dutch National Ballet, in which she dances with Postlewaite herself. In ten taut minutes, the piece traces the trajectory of a love affair.
In an arena-like circle of light, to a sound-collage of voices, Ochoa and Postlewaite approach and tangle with each other. Their movement is lithe and angular as they parry — tenderly and curiously at first, but growing rougher and rockier in intent as they enter a kind of stripping-down process.
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Ochoa is a remarkable dancer, moving as though she’s only just come into her bones. With limbs that limber, she all but makes slip-knots out of herself. Postlewaite, perfectly matched with her, is airy and elegant in his own right, while giving her all the support she needs to pull off the near impossible. The cinching choreographic stroke is the way that arena of light keeps splitting, changing intensity or shifting off-base, as though the ground rules of the world these two inhabit are being continually rewritten.
Ochoa’s other piece of the program, a world premiere titled “Crave,” doesn’t have quite the same punch, although it vividly evokes both the allure and downside of a glittery dance-club world.
Five dancers — Postlewaite, Andrew Bartee, Jim Kent, Tory Peil and Lara Seefeldt — shuttle between two realms: one where mirror-ball and strobe effects make everyone look magically animated, another where ghastly, drained light suggests hedonism isn’t an indefinitely sustainable activity.
Between those extremes, the dancers seek connection with someone else — anyone else — as sexual innuendo and approach tail off in all directions. Bartee increasingly is odd man out, courted and then rebuffed by the others. Acting as finely as he dances, he brings the piece to a poignant close.
Still, “Crave” often seems only to fluctuate back and forth in mood and mode rather than build up toward something structurally and dramatically satisfying. It may just need tightening.
No such problem with Whim W’Him artistic director Olivier Wevers’ two pieces. “More,” a solo piece for Bartee that premiered at last year’s “Men in Dance” festival, already feels like a signature piece for the PNB dancer (and for Wevers, too). Set to Ravel’s “Bolero,” it’s a comic study of insatiable appetite: in this case, a little red T-shirt that has the highly flexible Bartee tying himself in knots.
“The Sofa” was created last year for Grand Rapids Ballet, now led by former PNB star Patricia Barker. It’s built around a plush purple sofa; and for his foppish, flighty stars Wevers has cast two GRB dancers, Yuka Oba and Nick Schultz, who debuted the piece in Michigan. They’re surrounded by a goofy “court” of dancers who seem able to do anything in, on or under the sofa — except sit up straight on it.
Set to a Mozart piano concerto, “The Sofa” is Wevers at his frothiest best. It’s full of little betrayals, teary breakdowns, insouciant flourishes and absent-minded reconciliations, all played out in zanily gymnastic duets (Bartee and Seefeldt have special fun with theirs). One key image is of lovers who keep joining in literally blinding embrace, as their tenderly caressing hands repeatedly flatten themselves on the faces of their paramours, making it impossible for them to see.
“The Sofa” is also a dazzling demonstration of how to create malleable space with mobile bodies, as Wevers serves up Mobius- strip patterns in dance. It’s rote by now to say the Belgium-born choreographer has a surrealist component to his imagination, but it’s true. Once again, the spirit of Magritte informs his work, as that sofa does things and goes places you don’t expect a sofa to go.
Final note: Michael Mazzola’s lighting design is as crucial to all four pieces as any single dancer. The things he does with shadow and light, especially in “Crave,” are masterful.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org