Whim W’Him
Cornish Playhouse
Seattle, WA

January 17, 2020
XPRESS Program: Of Then and Now, Behavioral Skins, Blind Spot

Dean Speer

How wonderful that my first dance viewing of 2020 (perhaps the NEW Roaring ’20s) was last night’s opening bill of Whim W’Him’s 10th year mid-season offering, titled XPRESS, that featured new creations by three dance makers:  Ihsan Rustem; Sidra Bell; and Olivier Wevers, its Artistic Director.

Whim W’Him dancers
in Ihsan Rustem”s “Of Then and Now”
Photo by Stefano Altamura

Rustem’s Of Then and Now got first place in the lineup, and with choreography accompanied by the likes of Johnny Cash and Bellini’s soulful aria from his opera Norma, you cannot go wrong. Nor can you go wrong with the likes of its full cast of WW company members, each a phenom:  Liane Aung; Cameron Birts; Jane Cracovaner; Adrian Hoffman; Jim Kent; Mia Monteabaro; and Karl Watson. The lighting (by Michael Mazzola) created spaces that appeared to me to be sideways triangles — an interesting visual construct, for sure.

Serious but light overall in tone, Rustem deployed the cast first as individuals, then in pairs, and building to the whole group, and finally paring it down to a small number for the ending, which was set to Casta Diva. Excellent choices throughout.

Things got a bit more serious with Bell’s Behavioral Skins, which also began with solos and built to using the whole groups, sans Kent. I liked Bell’s movement inventiveness and enjoyed the unique twitching and body part isolations that she gave to dancer Jane Cracovaner, who was amazing — how she gave the appearance of her body being in her own control and yet still being able to move anywhere — at once both humorous and disturbing. I also enjoyed quite a lot how Bell devised a “whipping” line of dancers, having them move as an undulating line, back and forth, turning and then Cracovaner being floated up at the end, with her feet up off the stage — quite wonderful, and I am glad that this was repeated.

Whim W’Him dancers
in Sidra Bell’s “Behavioral Skins”
Photo by Stefano Altamura

My only choreographic fuss would be — and this is all too common — that the dance ended without really building to a conclusion. (If the curtain hadn’t come down and the lights turned off, I could not have told that this was the end of the dance; it could have easily gone on to another section.) Quoting Doris Humphrey’s wonderful primer, The Art of Making Dances, two of my favorite nuggets — “Never leave the ending to the end,” and “All dances are too long.”

Again, I enjoyed Bell’s creative voice and its timbre and her work — I just would have liked a stronger ending, and would like to see more of her output.

It’s been fun observing Wevers’ choreographic trajectory from beginning to now, as he’s gained in experience, knowledge, and confidence in developing his own style and voice. Some of his works have been very, very good — quite excellent as a matter of fact, while others are good for the moment, as he’s worked to find what is successful for himself as a creative artist and for his group of dancers that expresses these ideas. His newest, Blind Spot, explores the challenges of learning to be empathetic and kind — something that humanity has been working on for a long time.

Whim W’Him dancers
in Olivier Wevers’
“Blind Spot”
Photo by Stefano Altamura

One of Wevers’ strengths is moving his dancers well as a group, as seen here. I liked how he made, several times and in different ways, a “sculpture” with them and how he moved them into and out of each, and in a couple of cases, as if they were rolling/tumbling off. Dancers also lifted each other up and around, perhaps indicating the important “lifting” of mankind and connecting.

My only choreographic suggestion, and especially with subject matter in tone as serious as this, is that you have to give people hope — at least a glimmer of it. Concluding with the dancers either stomping on or slapping the stage floor (perhaps in bitter frustration), Blind Spot came across as a downer, ultimately, and I suspect this is not the message hoped to convey, given its stated program note goal — “…ready to be reclaimed by a newly open heart.” This is part that needed to be shown and deployed more fully or more clearly stated visually. Wevers could re-work or add to the ending to give us this newly-opened heart, giving us hope and a stronger dance to be kept in the repertory and unveiled again.

As I’ve reported several prior times, Wevers has assembled a very strong ensemble of beautiful dancers, each with exceptional facility, background, and experience, but I find myself having to give a special “shout out” to Cameron Birts. Birts is one of those dancers’ dancers who seems to embody everything you’d want to find in an artist — someone who dances 100 percent all the time in everything, who dances to and beyond the ends of his fingers and toes, and whose natural ability has many gifts such as arched feet, flexibility and extension, and a lovely line. All this from someone who at first blush appears unassuming — until he begins to move. He’s so good, it’s hard to take your eyes off of him and look at the others. I hope that Birts feels he has found his dance home and that I get to enjoy this artist for many more seasons.

XPRESS is more than a play on words — Wevers and Whim W’Him provide an opportunity for choreographic voices to be heard and seen. As I like to say, “now more than ever” we need what art and artists bring and contribute to the world.

Next up is their “Spring Fling” May 29, 30, and June 5, 6, 2020 also at the Cornish Playhouse, Seattle, Washington.