A Sock Hop
Shadows, Raincoats, & Monsters, presented by Whim W’Him
14 January 2011
Intiman Theatre, Seattle, Washington
by Dean Speer
The turnout of support for Whim W’Him’s opening night read like a veritable “Who’s Who” of the Seattle ballet and dance scene. It was a heady night and exciting to see many current and former dancers, including many from Pacific Northwest Ballet – Vincent Cuny, Anne Derieux, Carrie Imler, Kaori Nakamura, Julie Tobiason, Ross Yearsley, and Charles Newton (Whim W’Him’s volunteer board president) among many others.
Artistic Director Olivier Wevers brought together not only much laud and support but also terrific production values and elements – lighting by Michael Mazzola [resident lighting designer of Oregon Ballet Theatre], effective costuming, a first-rate media book, fabulous social media [website, Facebook presence], and interesting sound scores, not to mention some of the best and most talented dancers on the scene today – some from PNB but also dancers from Seattle’s Spectrum Dance Theatre, and a principal dancer from Houston Ballet.
An interesting production element: the dancers wore different colored socks in each dance– you could track your program progress through the socks.
However, I suggest ditching the socks altogether. If you’re going to do “fusion” or contemporary dance, don’t be coy and dance around the issue but admit it, and then let’s have the bare feet. Recognizing that ballet dancers tend to hate dancing barefoot, perhaps flesh-colored or very light pink ballet slippers might be the best alternative –comfortable for the dancers yet giving the appearance of being barefooted. Finally, the socks became an unintended distraction – “What color of socks is this dance going to be in? Oh, red. Oh, green...Oh, blue...” – to the point where it nearly became an amusement. Importantly too, socks interrupt the line of the leg, whereas dance slippers continue the line.
Everything about the program was packaged and presented beautifully and thoughtfully. The weakest part I found, though, was the choreography itself. Wevers, who made two of the three pieces, has really good ideas and presents his motifs well but needs to build and develop them more strongly.
Choreographically, the second movement of Wevers’ “Monster” was his strongest. “Monster” is an alienation piece, using an unequal male relationship in movement one as its springboard. Danced by Andrew Bartee and Vincent Michael Lopez deploying beautiful technique and a centered stage presence, they alternately attract and repel each other, depicting a relationship that’s ultimately ambiguous. Kylie Lewallen and Ty Alexander Cheng were the second movement’s couple and Melody Herrera [who danced en pointe – a welcome visual relief from socks] and Lucien Postlewaite danced the third movement. Herrera is a petite dancer whose demure size belies an unexpected strength and maturity
Interestingly – and it may be that they both have “low country” backgrounds in their youth – and as reported elsewhere attended the same high school in Belguim --the movement and aesthetic palette of guest choreographer Annabelle Ochoa Lopez is similar to that of Wevers.
Lopez’s “Cylindrical Shadows” is, according to the program notes, “...about disturbance, disruptions, and how we survive them.” One of the more interesting sound recordings chosen was the one where Canadian pianist Glenn Gould plays Bach’s arrangement of the adagio from Marcello’s Concerto in D Minor, BWV 974. What makes the choice interesting is that often Gould was a hummer – he often did this while playing as he did here on this recording, and I’m convinced Lopez chose it for this very reason; the humming adds a sense of the disturbed to the dance, as does concluding with Dido’s Lament by Purcell.
Both Chalnessa Eames and Herrera appear en pointe in this piece; yet structurally, the women are often around the edges of the quartet of men – Bartee, Lopez, Postlewaite, and Wevers. Herrera’s liquid and quick bourées and turns were used as her personal movement motif and were exciting.
Based on the title of a well-known painting, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” Wevers’ opening work, "This Is Not A Raincoat,” depicts the metaphorical and psychological layers and barriers clothing – and costumes – can make. Think about how thin tights actually are, for example, and how the eye stops at the tights and is led to the line made by the legs – rather than to the leg itself – no appearance of something prurient. Being vulnerable and allowing oneself to be vulnerable on purpose – either for reasons of self-improvement, such as taking a class or being “open” to friends and family is when we must be vulnerable and take off some of these layers – and willingly. This is a primary way of how we absorb information and lessons and of how we can become close to someone or thing. As the program note puts it, an “...open, unguarded self.”
The five dancers – Bartee, Cheng, Eames, Lewallen, and Postlewaite -- each wear a hooded rain slicker/poncho and variously take them off or on or discard them. The music by Mitchell Akiyama and Jad Abumrad had an diatonic and Oriental feel to it that was quite lovely, atmospheric and which supported Wevers’ choreographic vision nicely.
The dancers, creative personnel, volunteers, and donors are all to be applauded for enthusiastically supporting Whim W’him which is making reputation for itself as one of Seattle’s exciting and fresh dance ventures.