Since founding Whim W’Him almost 10 years ago, Olivier Wevers has built the contemporary dance company into one that draws choreographers from around the world and dancers from across the country.
Almost 10 years ago, Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Olivier Wevers founded his own contemporary dance company, Whim W’Him. The troupe’s earliest shows were all-Wevers affairs, but the Brussels-born choreographer’s long-term agenda was always to facilitate collaborations with other dance makers.
“There are a few choreographers that I want to bring to Seattle,” he said in 2010. “I really love their work and I think this would be a great venue, because of the dancers being so talented, being so versatile.”
Fast-forward to 2018. Choreographers from Europe, the Middle East and the Americas have created pieces for Whim W’Him, and dancers from across the country have been drawn to work with the company. As Wevers said in an interview earlier this month, “The dream has happened.”
Whim W’Him: “Configurate”
8 p.m. Jan. 19, 20, 26 and 27. Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center, 201 Mercer St., Seattle; $15-$55 (800-838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com)
Seattle dance lovers can see the dream in action over the next two weekends when Whim W’Him presents “Configurate,” an evening of new works by Wevers, Gabrielle Lamb (New York) and Ihsan Rustem (Switzerland). A recent rehearsal run-through made it look like a thrilling program, calling on all the wily dance prowess and acting chops of Whim W’Him’s seven dancers.
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Every dance company has personnel turnover from season to season, and Whim W’Him holds auditions each year in New York and Seattle to replenish its ranks. Wevers sees as many as 70 dancers out the 300 who apply for each available company spot.
Karl Watson, who joined Whim W’Him in 2016, was one of those dancers. Now serving as the company’s rehearsal coordinator, he started his professional dance career in Chicago with Luna Negra Dance Theater and Visceral Dance Chicago (where he was a founding member).
After three years with Visceral, Watson felt his “explorer side” getting restless, he said. While visiting New York, he learned that Whim W’Him was holding auditions there.
“I had heard of Whim W’Him,” he says, “through social media. I feel like that’s always been a really strong part of the company … their use of technology to market themselves.”
Watson also was aware that they’d debuted new pieces by Belgian-Colombian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, whose work had been performed by Luna Negra. “Then I heard about ‘Choreographic Shindig,’ where the dancers got to choose the choreographers, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really intriguing.’”
Watson moved to Seattle “for Olivier and the work that he’s doing.” But the cost of living here took him by surprise: “I mean, Chicago is a big city, but Seattle is so much more expensive. … I was living in a living room that I turned into a bedroom.”
Since then, he’s discovered some of the perks of living in Seattle.
“My boyfriend lives here, and we go hiking and we go to Orcas Island. I see way more of the reasons why I think people are drawn to the Pacific Northwest. … We don’t have Olympic National Park in Chicago.”
The pay offered by Whim W’Him (“One of the very competitive salaries in the nation for contemporary dance,” Wevers says) and the 30-week contract guaranteeing dancers work were also draws for Watson. Wevers, he says, “fights really hard and wants to be able to offer more.”
To Wevers’ mind, Whim W’Him offers advantages that he wishes he’d had as a dancer, including the opportunity to work with choreographers from around the world. But in the company’s first years, some of his board members felt Whim W’Him should be a showcase solely for Wevers’ work.
“When I started the ‘Choreographic Shindig,’ not having any piece on it,” Wevers recalls, “there was a lot of questioning. I had to convince my board that that was a good idea. But that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I didn’t want all the burden to be just on me. … It’s good to put your work in perspective with others around and to have this variety.”
It was also one way to expose Seattle dance devotees to a wider range of choreographic voices, and to give himself a chance to see more.
“There are hundreds of companies in the world that are doing really great work,” he points out, “and they all have their own little way of doing things.”
While Wevers is satisfied artistically with the company and with the number of choreographers that he’s able to bring to town, he does have plans to build up the infrastructure of the company. “We need to get our own studio,” he says.
There’s still a long way to go, he says.
“But it’s happening. It’s growing.”