Something deadly serious, something slinkily mysterious — and something totally goofy.
Seattle dance troupe Whim W’Him struck three nicely contrasting notes in “Instantly Bound,” its new trio of dances.
Led by former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Olivier Wevers, the company recently made a transition from being a shifting lineup of pickup dancers (many of them glorious talents from PNB and Spectrum Dance Theater) and is now an eight-member group of contracted dancers that includes four Spectrum alumni. It also just hired a full-time executive director: Katie Bombico.
Wevers, in short, means business. And his two works in “Instantly Bound,” so wildly different in mood and method, suggest he plans to do business on both challenging and entertaining fronts.
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The title piece, created last year for Philadelphia’s BalletX, is a meditation on “sudden death by gun violence.” It’s a deliberately fragmented work: shards rather than sequential paths of movement. Disruption, sudden collapse and abruptly dark or empty spaces haunt it.
While it has a stuttering tension, it doesn’t quite crackle as drama. The senseless deaths it depicts are so scattershot, they feel like they’re more about numbness than compelling narrative.
That said, there are striking moments — when Lara Seefeldt literally scrambles up lanky Kyle Johnson until she’s perched on his shoulders in what she hopes is safety, for instance, or when Mia Monteabaro falls away from her peers into a harsh, isolating spotlight where she’s wracked by angular contortions. (Michael Mazzola’s split-second lighting design is crucial to the piece.)
“Les Sylphides,” which closed the evening to rapturous response from a packed house, is sublimely nutty, and as churning and multistranded as a boiling pot of spaghetti. It spoofs Michel Fokine’s classic ballet of the same title (a “romantic reverie” commonly deemed the first plotless ballet) by riddling it with as many plot complications as possible: flirtations, betrayals, hissy fits, trysts, the works.
The setting is a dinner party where all the diners seem to be suffering attention deficit disorder of the libido. Whim W’Him veteran Tory Peil, as the hostess, and newcomer Thomas Phelan, as a guest she can’t resist, are particularly zany comic talents and look as though they’re having a ball. Even the table the seven performers dance on top of, underneath and next to looks like it’s having fun.
In both “Les Sylphides” and “Instantly Bound,” Wevers seems more drawn than ever to the deliberately awkward and ungainly, the hiccupped move, the floppily acrobatic. It’s fascinating how he can turn these loosey-goosey maneuvers to both comic and serious purpose — and just as impressive how precise this slangy-looking movement vocabulary actually is. You know it the minute a dancer hits a sound or lighting cue right on the dot, or when a trio of dancers is in sudden, crisply controlled sync.
While pushing his own style in this looser direction, Wevers has also invited guest choreographers to try their hand with his company. Spanish choreographer Juanjo Arques, a former dancer with English National Ballet and Dutch National Ballet, is the latest – and his piece for eight dancers, “Crossroads,” is as eros-focused as Wevers’ “Les Sylphides,” but without being farcical about it.
Instead, its couples, trios and quartets engage in slinky queries and guarded answers.
Monteabaro and Geneva Jenkins are captivating in a duet that’s a peculiarly elastic and nuzzling struggle. Seefeldt, Phelan, Jim Kent and Madeline Devries are equally dreamy fun as a quartet engaged in all sorts of swooning, draping combinations. Peil and Johnson dominate the piece with their intimate, intricate, aggression-fueled relationship, their grip on each other going from tender to firm to abusive.
Seefeldt, as an outsider whispering secrets into the players’ ears, makes an unsettling impression too. And Arques’ own minimalist set — two walls, a bench — deftly contributes to the sensual malaise. Let’s hope Wevers brings him back.
One final collaboration is key to “Instantly Bound.” Wevers invited Boston-based artist Greg Bokor to create his piece, “ERASE,” in the lobby for the show’s three-day run. It’s a huge pencil sketch of a machine gun that audience members are invited to erase: a fantasy perhaps, but an effective one.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com