Erickson Theater Off Broadway
September 14, 2019, evening
Choreographic Program V: Choreography by Joshua Manculich (See-Saw), Kyra Jean Green (The Smile Club), and Yoshito Sakuraba (Laurentide)
One of the best and most intriguing ideas for curating programming a dance show comes from Seattle’s Whim W’Him Contemporary Dance Company where Artistic Director Olivier Wevers has the dancers themselves choose the choreographers who will create new works for one of their season’s showings. Of course, part of the fun is that you never really know what you’re going to get even if the creative artist is very experienced or well known. (Everyone points to Mr. Balanchine as an example of this, who having created many masterpieces and many solid minor works, also had a couple of duds along the way.)
Fortunately, there were no duds on this program. Each was thoughtful, seriously-taken by the hands that guided them, even though the tone may have varied from work to work. And the overall results ranged, for me, from good to quite fine.
My curiosity was piqued by See-Saw, made by Joshua Manculich, where the audience was, as they came in, to put a sticky note on a board stating what might be on their respective bucket lists. When the dance began, the dancers passed out these notes to unsuspecting audience members — handed to me was “Have a family” written in curly-cue letters, with a heart drawn over the “i.” Hmm… The dance itself, while structured, impressed one as being improvised based on either what the dancers had gleaned from the notes or having been directed by Manculich. While a strongly-made dance, I felt it would have been made even better had he used fewer movement ideas or motifs and developed them. As it was, the dance, while interesting to watch, didn’t build and really go anywhere as much as it could have, given how beautifully it was danced.
Next we had The Smile Club by Kyra Jean Green who used the historic fact that during the 1930s the city of Budapest created a “Smile Club” to teach people to smile and be happy, in the wake of WWI. Green made a fun and challenging dance for the Whim W’Him artists who were called upon not only to dance with their bodies but quite a lot with their faces as well. As I seem to recall there are 44 muscles in the face, and I think the dancers used pretty much all of them, in various and multiple combinations. My favorite section was where the dancers did an extended and strongly choreographed “happy dance” with grins that would have lit up Manhattan.
For me, the best and strongest choreography was saved for last — Yoshito Sakuraba’s Laurentide, based on the premise that there are some areas of Canada where the gravity is lower than the rest of the world, due to the weight of the now melted 2-mile thick Laurentide Ice Sheet. Sakuraba gave his dance real form and developed his compositional ideas in ways that enabled us audience members to find clear and easy movements to follow and appreciate.
It’s no wonder that Whim W’Him’s amazing and talented dancers: Liane Aung; Cameron Birts; Jane Cracovaner; Adrian Hoffman, Jim Kent; Mai Monteabaro, and Karl Watson received a well-deserved cheering standing ovation at the conclusion of the evening. This is a collection of dance artists that I can happily watch again and again, especially as Wevers and the dancers continue to bring us new and exciting work as found in such programs as this. A shindig indeed.