Erickson Theater Off Broadway, Seattle, WA; May 16, 2014

Dean Speer

Lara Seefeldt in "Above the Cloud" Photo © Bamberg Fine Art

Lara Seefeldt in “Above the Cloud”
Photo © Bamberg Fine Art

The intersection of Seattle’s lower Capitol Hill neighborhood at Broadway and Pine has long been a hotbed of creativity and culture, dating back to the original Cornish School building, which still proudly sits upright at the corner of Pine and Broadway, though now “re-purposed.” [Cornish moved about a short mile north to Harvard and Roy in 1920. This is the location that Anna Pavlova visited during one of her three tours that reached pioneering Seattle.]

Down Pine Street only half a block is the venerable former Masonic Temple, now one of the sites of the renowned Seattle International Film Festival, and literally a skip and jump around the corner from what’s become a frequent venue for dance – the 150-seat intimate black box Erickson Theater.

Seattle’s contemporary dance company, Whim W’him, directed by Olivier Wevers, tried out this locale for its Spring 2014 show, enticingly titled “#unprotected.” In this case, it means no use of wings or a backstage crossover – everything is seen by the audience. It’s also a clever way to maximize the use of space – all the dancers I know want and like to move out.

Into this already heady atmosphere, Whim W’him presented three new works by proven associates – Annabelle Lopez Ochoa; Andrew Bartee; and Wevers.

The title of “Les Biches” by Ochoa can refer to deer or in slang it can suggest coquettish women. Its very connotation is layered. Four women in white skull caps and leotards and bare feet [I loved seeing their beautiful feet] and legs, appear as creatures – nearly alien – with very, very long red nails [talons] that also, when occasionally placed over their heads, suggest antlers [which, ironically, only males sport]. With alternating undulating and sharp movement motifs and quickly held feral poses, the four [Geneva Jenkins, Mia Monteabaro, Tory Peil and Lara Seefeldt] vie for hegemony, placate each other and – at the end – group together as one and hide themselves away, so much like actual beasts. Mysterious [moon images and ideas – one half seen and the other always hidden] and unsettling, Ochoa smartly used the dancers’ considerable and beautiful technique but as a servant to her dance, not as a display. It was satisfying seeing dance and dancers used in this complementary way.

I’ll say up front that I’m not a big fan of “pedestrian movement.” While I’m not opposed to using natural gesture and wanting pieces to have this texture, I feel that if I want to see this, I can just go outside and observe humanity at work. Typically too, highly trained dancers are underutilized – squandered to so speak, and this bothers me. Bartee’s “I’m here but it’s not the same”could have used anyone off the street. If that was the point, then perhaps that kind of casting could have been explored here, as has been done in the past where choreographers used attorneys in suits with their briefcases on stage, etc.

Beginning with a single line of five dancers facing upstage, during quick blackouts, they incrementally shifted toward center, in an attenuated process. The dancers all wore “hoodies” and fit well into the stark, unadorned setting of the theatre. In theatre parlance, adding things to the stage such as wings, decor is called “dressing” the stage and Bartee’s concept took advantage of the bare, undressed space, suggesting some dangerous urban “hood,” with one dancer in particular shucking the hoodie, going solo but getting reeled back into the gang.

“Above the Cloud”was created by Wevers to the famous Poulenc organ concerto score with its attractive-to-dance-makers driving rhythms and tunes. Glen Tetley’s “Voluntaries” to the same music [made as a tribute to and in response to the passing of John Cranko] was the visual image I had to mentally divorce from my video memory file in order to freshly look at Wevers’ new work. I’m happy to report that Wevers’ piece – in concept or movement-wise – has no relation to Tetley’s and is a frothy as Tetley’s is serious. That’s not to say we don’t take it seriously and it did have its moments of gravitas; yet, it was overall light fare to conclude the program.

A full-company work, “Above the Cloud” was kinetic, playful, using oversized giant pillows as an interactive prop that the dancers held as comforters in front of them, flounced upon, attempted to nap on, were lifted up upon, and used to create separate rooms of dance space.

Wevers has assembled an amazing pool of company dancers who are very deserving of an accolade and recognition of their hard work and dedication to what has become an exciting new venture of Seattle dance, built on its previous pickup group: Geneva Jenkins; Kyle Johnson; Jim Kent; Mia Monteabaro; Tory Peil; Thomas Phelan; and Lara Seefeldt.

Wevers has revealed that Whim W’him will expand its future offerings to three repertory seasons – an vaulted and exciting venture to look for in the not too distant year.