Whim W’him’s Third Degreeº Program, 17 May 2013
Playhouse at Seattle Center
by Dean Speer
One of our dear colleagues commented on how she enjoyed so much seeing the progress of choreographers over the years of their respective development. This is certainly true of the creative career path of Whim W’him’s founder, Olivier Wevers. From his earliest in-studio presentations to showcases at Pacific Northwest Ballet designed to show off and give a forum for unburnished talent, Wevers has repeatedly shown fresh ideas and growth. Like so many creative artists, some are “mainstage” worthy and ready, while others are perfect for the smaller venues that his company enjoys, while a handful of others were useful exercises in climbing up the ladder of mastery. This is normal. Very, very rarely does perfect choreography spring out, fully formed, from the head of Zeus and even mature and very renowned and respected established dance makers can occasionally land us a dud. That’s part of what makes the creative process so exciting, as it involves risks and, quite literally, leaps of faith.
Each of Wevers’ recent programs have produced at least one mainstage-ready piece. Perhaps, without even realizing it, he’s also now providing a leg-up for inexperienced choreographers – in this program, the young Andrew Bartee.
Olivier Wevers is blessed to work with a group of very talented dancers who bring this deep talent to each of Whim W’him’s shows. "Third Degree" – the latest program -- presented three shorter works and an entirely new one by Wevers.
The first piece, “This Is Real” by Andrew Bartee, is about combative and scrappy relationships – in this case between two women and a man. Set to an original sound score by Lena Simon and with a very creative lighting design by Oregon Ballet Theatre’s resident designer, Michael Mazzola, Bartee’s work impressed as being very theatrical, serious, good and, as I earlier mentioned, a good experience for him. Dancers Sergey Kheylik, Mia Monteabaro, and Tory Peil were outstanding and beautiful – their experience and maturity reflected in their execution and commitment to the dance.
One of the best of Wevers’ oeuvre, “Fragments,” plays on Mozart operatic vocal excerpts, including from the iconic ‘Magic Flute.’ Conceptually and choreographically nearly perfect in every way, its strength lies not just in its invention but in carrying that thread throughout. It surprises with depth via a solo to ‘Ave Verum Corpus’ for the amazing Jesse Sani. One of the choirs I was in used to sing this, and I can tell you it was always a heartfelt and musical joy every time. I could easily see this in Sani’s solo – someone reaching into their soul and perhaps up to God for peace, comfort, and resolution. The work concludes happily with a coda for the two dancers, Sani and the equally amazing Lara Seefeldt.
Concluding the first half, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s 2010 solo creation, “L’Effleure,” seemed tailor-made for Bartee whose flexibility, extension, and control are unreal. A signature of Ochoa’s work is centering it around something, providing a thread or springboard. In this case it was richly colored red roses, one for each hand and for holding in his teeth. The use of the hands impressed me greatly as being like his playing castanets – very expressive and quite engaging to watch. Willam Christensen once said – within earshot – ...”in order to make good dances, you have to have good dancers.” This seems like a well, of course! statement, yet not that many have this opportunity. Ochoa’s work, already good, is elevated by the level of performance that Bartee can give it and it’s hard to imagine it being done by anybody else.
I’ve come to believe that all choreography is – more or less – autobiographical and this is pointedly made on purpose with Wevers' new “I Don’t Remember A Spark.” He uses the opportunity to partly explain his process, using an original score interpolated with his self commentary and graced by dancers Bartee, Sergey Kheylik, Mia Monteabaro, Lara Seefeldt, and Tory Peil. He builds the dance well and knows how to make it interesting. My only suggestion would be – as personal as it may be – to cut back on the verbal commentary and let the dance speak for itself more.
Wevers has worked hard and has a good thing going and the greater Seattle region is benefitted by his persistence and continued devotion to producing evenings of fascinating dance through the vehicle of Whim W’him.