Short Acts on the Heartstrings Photo Bamberg Fine Art

Short Acts on the Heartstrings
Photo Bamberg Fine Art

Erickson Theatre Off Broadway, Seattle, WA
September 11, 2015

Dean Speer

It’s hard to believe that Olivier Wevers’ platform for choreography, Whim W’him, has passed its five-year mark and is growing and going strongly in 2015-16, with a second year of dancers under contract – a consistent roster of dancers, so important to artistic and organizational growth – and a couple of rotating performance homes.

This season’s opener, Choreographic Shindig, took place at the intimate Erickson Theatre on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. With only 130 seats, it’s a great venue for being able to see the dancers up close, but not so small that the choreographic designs lose perspective.

The dancer-selected choreographers for the program were Joshua Peugh, co-founder and Artistic Director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance from Dallas TX; Maurya Kerr, founder of tinypistol of San Francisco, and winner of the 2011 Hubbard Street National Choreographic Competition; and Zurich-based Ihsan Rustem, winner of Sadler’s Wells Global Dance Contest in 2012.

Short Acts on the Heartstrings by Peugh had as its opening premise the ‘light’ band sound of the Lennon Sisters, of the Lawrence Welk Show fame, among others, with the female dancers outfitted in fluffy light-green knee length dresses and the men in Summer tuxes — all lip sync crooning. I grew up in the 1960s watching and listening to the Lennon Sisters and was steeped in this era and genre of music; a time that the dance strongly suggested, one that was innocent on the surface, when dance and music was for many an escape from its horrors and difficulties.

Movement motifs were equally light until a quartet of men began an athletic display, their cheek bones under their eyes marked with black streaks like football players hinting at the darker undercurrents of social change of this period. It ended as sweetly as it began, with the dancers sauntering off to exit upstage right.

The great dancing continued with a kind male pas de deux and couples holding each other. Too often male duets are displayed as combative by some unwritten rule of nature and it was pleasant to see one that broke out of this stereotype and was gentle, as most relationships are. The choreography contained some great sweeping arcs and moments of sublime beauty.

Maurya Kerr describes her work as tending to explore the darker side of human nature and her into the wide welcome trafficked on themes of isolation and alienation. The score and lighting design suggested a futuristic industrial metallic setting. Unsurprisingly there appeared to be little sense of community. Dancers beat on their chests and duos emerged as the worked developed, concluding uncertainly for its cast.

Ihsan Rustem’s work was equally as serious. The Road to Here began strongly with some dancers on the floor, others around in their own zones to a score by Max Richter. My only fuss is that about two-thirds of the way through, Rustem inserted a small section that was completely unnecessary and not in keeping with the rest of work, and that falls into the category of “just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it.” He had the dancers run, circling between two upstage doors. One exposed his posterior (and covered front) to the audience, before being pulled out of sight by another dancer. This is one of those things that is hard to ‘un-see’ after it has been done. Is this the strongest image or memory he wished the audience to remember and talk about? Was it an ill-fated attempt at humor? Was he trying to shock us? Did he not fully trust his good work and feel his piece really needed it? You can see just from how much I’m writing about this small, short insert how much attention it garners. For an otherwise very good piece, I would suggest editing this out, making the total work stronger.

With commissioned work, outcomes are never guaranteed. You don’t know what the work is really going to be like until it is onstage. As the last two works have similar themes, perhaps a reordering of the program might have been in order, with Peugh’s work in the middle, to better break up the palette and to showcase each distinctly. Serious, lighter, serious.

In a starless ensemble company of truly great dancers, two do rise in my mind as stars: Tory Peil and right behind her Justin Reiter. Each possesses not only seemingly unlimited technique and artistry but also has that je ne sais quoi that informs what each brings to the performance.

As Whim W’him grows and goes – through its artistic vision and continuing series – it finds itself being much talked about in the social media and rising to national and international stature. If the opening night’s enthusiastic audience is any indicator of merit, the company will be around for the long haul and we very much look forward to its future presentations and shows.

Looking ahead…

Grand Rapids Ballet is making its full company Seattle debut next month with two programs: Wevers’ full-length A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a mixed bill including works from popular choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and another by Penny Saunders. October 8 to 11 at the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center. For more details, click here.