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A Prodigal...Returns and Serves

Whim W'him

by Dean Speer

January 20, 2013 -- Intiman Theatre, Seattle, Washington

One of the most beautiful places in Western Washington is also one of the most desolate – appropriately named, Diablo. Of immense beauty, the wind also never ceases and the local Indians thought that it led into another world, perhaps the portal to gods and goddesses. It’s also as far as salmon could naturally go upstream. Now a small hamlet – a company town built, owned, and operated by Seattle City Light, Diablo Dam and the lake it created behind it are imbued with the mystery, power, and aura that comes with that magical place. A place both uplifting and beautiful yet potentially frightening and dangerous. Truly other-worldly.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Crave” made especially for Whim W’him’s January performance season in Seattle’s Initiman Theatre space brought Diablo to my mind as its five dancers worked through what appeared to be their isolation from the outer world – the lighting suggested institutionalized confinement with searchlights circling the back wall and stage floor, often in a group but also attempting to pair off and ultimately pushing over the edge one of their own, Andrew Bartee. The amazing cast roster included Bartee, Jim Kent, Tory Peil, Lucien Postlewaite, and Lara Seefeldt. Each could easily be of soloist rank in any company. Strong technique with calm and centered characterizations and artistic presence.

Ochoa returned periodically to her opening theme of jumping, herky-jerking spastic movement – wrists and heads shaking. Very primal. This then opened up into development of her idea as the dancers moved variously across the stage – sometimes “leaving” the space to observe from the upstage wall, upper bodies slumped in registered depression or abandoned hope.

A powerful work, it’s not exactly clear what the characters were craving except freedom but it was clear they were oppressed and controlled.

My third time viewing Artistic Director Olivier Wevers’ “More” made for Mr. Bartee found me as equally impressed by Bartee’s facility and ability to move from deadly serious [“Crave”] to goofy and light. I only feel sorry for the poor T-shirt that gets ripped apart each performance. Accompanied by an abbreviated version of Ravel’s iconic “Bolero,” Wevers builds, as does Ravel, layer upon layer of color. It’s an engaging piece that represents a twenty-something’s obsession with garments and of being narcissistic.

Ochoa herself and Lucien Postlewaite were featured as the duo soloists in her “Before After” first created for the Dutch National Ballet in June of 2002. I liked its athleticism and surprising attacks of phrases. Ochoa is a formidable dancer, as is Postlewaite [formerly of PNB and now with Les Ballets de Monte Carlo] and seeing the two together was to watch two artists at the top of their game.

“The Sofa” allowed us the joy of introducing us to Grand Rapids Ballet’s Yuka Oba and Nick Schultz, in addition to being a happy group piece with Lara Seefeldt, Bartee, Tory Peil and Shane Ohmer, Amber Willett, and Jim Kent, and Mia Monteabaro, and Kyle Johnson.
Premiered by Grand Rapids Ballet in April of last year, “The Sofa” has as its premise dancers presenting various phases of what a couch experiences, acting somewhat like a Greek Chorus, with its joys, flirtations, angst, and slumming around. At the conclusion, the sofa itself is lifted up into the flies, perhaps to suggest it’s time to be re-upholstered. The program note states, in part, “The Sofa bears the weight of our relationships.” I like too Patricia Barker’s own note: “The Sofa in all its life, humor, shadows, and passion is like a small window into Olivier’s life.” Barker commissioned this work for her Grand Rapids Ballet and is a longtime former colleague of Wevers when they both were stars of Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Whim W’him continues to attract and grow audience. Plans are for deserved expansion and a debut at the Joyce Theatre in New York later this year.

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