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Easy on Approach

Whim W'him's 'Approaching Ecstasy'

by Dean Speer

May 18, 2012 -- Intiman Theatre, Seattle, WA

You can usually tell if something is going to be good or satisfactory pretty much from the get-go, such as with a singer, or, in this case, with an evening of new choreography. When conductor and composer Eric Banks lifted his baton and the first few measures of his commissioned composition for Whim W’him’s “Approaching Ecstasy” were unleashed, I found myself thinking, “This is going to be good,” as the music – and its execution – were lovely. Yet, my only real gripe about the evening is musical – each of the 18 relatively short sections were nearly all at the same tempo, about an andantino feeling. A bit of contrast in the pacing would have been welcome.

Never the less, the music reminded me of Howard Hanson’s work, its sound and rhythmic patterns. One local reviewer commented that it was “hymn-like” and I agree. Lovely, rich sounds coming from the string quartet, augmented with harp and the many, often, a cappella voices of The Esoterics group.

The concept and choreography by Olivier Wevers are based on private poems by Constantine P. Cavafy whose work touches on the theme of what it was like to be a gay man in Egypt 100 years ago and in the sixteenth poem, wishing that 100 years from then – our era – that everyone would be able to live more freely.

I liked how the cast – singers first – entered from upstage right through stage set that functioned like a theatre vomitory, disgorging its contents on a deep diagonal who then took seats on chairs placed for them on the edges of either side of the stage. Logically then came the dancers through who engaged in setting up context through spacial relationships and gesture.

Andrew Bartee’s opening solo – or perhaps better, a duet with a table helped set the tone of movement motifs – inventive, quirky, extended “pedestrian movement,” and deployment of each dancer’s native and beautiful technique.

As with some of his other pieces, Wevers is not overt in showing and developing his theme but builds them through successive stages and interactions.

Each of the very beautiful dancers, Bartee, Chalnessa Eames, Jim Kent, Kaori Nakamura, Shane Ohmer [who looks like the twin of "Dancing With The Stars'" William Levy], Tory Peil, and Lucien Postlewaite dug into the material 100 percent, which helped give us an evening of serious work but one that also resonated with elements of beauty and closeted love.

Nakamura, whose appearance may be easily described as ethereal, portrayed a character who seemed to be, at times, in search of herself and at others representing the spiritual side of humanity. As always her pointe work, technique and dancing were smooth and flawless.

The 90 minute work concluded with a retrograde procession, out through the portal and into the cool, Egyptian night.

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