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A Shepherd On the Rock

Whim W'him:

'Cast the First Rock in Twenty Twelve'

by Dean Speer

January 22, 2012-- Intiman Theatre, Seattle, Washington

Olivier Wevers tackled a troubling social issue in his latest project, Whim W’him’s "Cast the First Rock in Twenty Twelve." “ThrOwn’s” obvious Biblical reference is that of Christ Jesus’ admonition to those gathered, presumably men, who were poised to stone the adulterous woman, with “Who that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” [John] Everyone will recall that this dispersed the crowd and then he tells her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

This topic is still troubling today on several fronts, not the least of which is that this practice is still being observed in some places, and two, where was the other party, again presumably a man in all this? In other words, why was only the woman condemned and not the man too?

Gender and social class struggles have made much progress but clearly, there is a long ways to go if past practices are tolerated anywhere.

Wevers also posits that we are either participants or not – and, if I may, suggests that no action [that of intervention and change], in itself, bears the sin of our fathers.

Concluding the program, this choreographic rendering depicts a female who is caught, flogged, and then stoned, danced movingly by Chalnessa Eames. In addition to Eames, the large ensemble piece included Andrew Bartee; Jim Kent; Tory Peil; and Lucien Postlewaite, alternately taking the roles of mother, husband, lover, son, comforter, accuser, jailor, and executioner.

To me, this very strong and dramatic piece represents some of Wevers’ most mature and profound work to date, a break-out dance that elevates the work of Whim W’him from the quirky and fun to big-time serious.

He takes a theme and smartly develops it, using many of the compositional tools available to dance and music – a premise, re-statement of it, development, return, fragmentation – breaking it up, transference – all the while moving its narrative forward.

He also, wisely, avoided the maudlin – showing us the tragedy but neither overplaying the hand nor stuffing it down our throats.

The only thing I would have done differently is to have nixed the brief projection of the American flag onto the backdrop, as I felt this was unnecessary as we already got the message. It also, perhaps unintentionally, placed the dance into a certain time period, rather than having it and its message remain timeless.

The conclusion of “ThrOwn” was strong, with four of the characters each dumping a small pile of “stones” on the victim, who is then lifted up. Again, this lighter and not exactly literal treatment of his subject matter actually makes a deeper impact – poetic.

This work also clearly represented a big investment – a designed set by Steve Jensen – backdrop/projection and a floor covering the stage all suggesting a colorful place in the arid desert where camels with hooded riders might appear over the top of the horizon at any moment. Costumes, thoughtfully designed by Christine Joly de Lotbiniere worked perfectly – nothing out of place, each one contributing to the overall affect.

Quirky and fun, though, were the first two dances – a solo for Eames, dolled up to look like the glamorous Zizi Jeanmaire, looking more French than France and a playfully competitive/combative duet for two men who took the phrase “strip poker” to new meaning.

I’ve long enjoyed Eames during her years at Pacific Northwest Ballet and Wevers taps into her technique, experience, and nature showing off her range – from flirty and dancing up a storm to showing beautiful technical control and a myriad of facial expressions, Eames got to do it all. “La Langue de l’Amour” was a solid, fun opener. A bit of a tease.

“Flower Festival” is a reinterpretation the original Bournonville pas de deux, to the music of Helsted but here is for two men, dressed for success in tailored suits who confront each other, then subsequently partner each other in inventive ways such as with one of the suit coats. Bartee and Postlewaite danced the protagonists. Each has amazing facility and Wevers neatly incorporates this so we get to enjoy their technical prowess as well as what the dance itself is saying.

Every choreographer goes through growth and compositional phases and all of us, myself included, seem to have to make at least one “chair” piece. "Flower Festival" is Wevers' "chair piece." While used for setting up a spatial relationship – that of sparring from two, opposite corners of a ring, it would have been fun to have perhaps used the chairs themselves as partner props more.

While the bulk of dance compositions are coming from its director, Wevers, given this new level of the exploration of the human condition, I might lobby for Whim W’him to seriously consider looking into acquisitioning Martha Graham’s more notable work. Graham was a modern dance pioneer in many ways, not the least of which is that she was interested in making dances about real people in real-life situations – sometimes on an epic scale, such as her Greek period pieces – and not about dances where the dancers are birds, flowers, or the moon. Many are beautifully profound, deep and might fit in well with the direction this company is going, appeal to the dancers and to the audiences, showcasing it at its best. It doesn’t have to be Martha – there are many truly great modern dances out there that would be nuggets.

I know from first-hand experience just how time-intensive it is to create and rehearse dances and recognize what it took to pull together all of the various components of this program – marketing, development, artistic creations – which, together, took us in a little under an hour from the light to the dramatic. As Whim W’him repertory builds, I very much look forward to seeing dances that not only entertain but trouble and move us in unexpected ways.

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