When new Whim W’Him dancer Amber Willett set off for Tübingen, Germany last year, with her husband of two weeks, he had a good teaching fellowship, she didn’t have any job. But they settled in a fairy tale village on the Neckar River. There were 500 year old trees and no cell phones. They went everywhere by bike. It was a quiet, peaceful life there, “a very good way to learn to rely on each other in deeper ways.”
Originally Amber had the idea that she would apply at Stuttgart Ballet, but it turned out to be farther away than they thought. So she applied for a choreographic residency in Tübingen, at the Inztanz International Dance Center. And got it. A rather intimidating prospect, one would think, for a young dancer from a different country, who was not a native German speaker. But it doesn’t seem to have phased Amber.
She did one big show while she was there. She got the idea from Virgina Woolf’s The Waves. The piece, Clepsydra Gezeiten [water clock/tide] was a related series of dances, using three men and three women. It was not, says Amber, “trying to illustrate or tell a story, but sentences from the book would make her see things.” I’m bending my head over the basin, or I’m going to wrap my agony inside a pocket handkerchief. It took place at the Tübingen Stadtmuseum at different levels in the old half-timbered building. “There was not a ton of dance culture in Tübingden,” Amber recalls, so the three evenings became a mixed media occasion for discussion, in German and English, in the historical museum—an exploration of time and space.
The venue had smallish rooms. No room could hold more than 30. So the first floor was dancing—a piece called A chink in the hedge that involved a kiss through a secret opening. The second floor was the scene of skits, developed from The Waves and done in German by four women performed by actors on the theme of blackboards. I look at the board. Others all have answers and I just see figures. Poets read their own work on the third floor. After the audience had observed the action on one level, it moved on to the next. The community responded well. Three German newspapers reviewed the performances. The three nights of performances were sold out and people turned away.
WELLEN DES LEBENS
TÜBINGEN. Vier Stühle, vier Tänzerinnen und eine Idee: Mit ihrem Stück »Clepsydra« – griechisch für Gezeiten – hat die Choreografin Amber Willett am Donnerstagabend im Tübinger Stadtmuseum einen beeindruckenden Dialog der Künste inszeniert.
That was in July of this year. By September 1, Amber and her spouse were back in Seattle. After their quiet year abroad, everything seemed bigger and quicker. Though she was an intrepid bike rider, she says, “Cars go so fast here, and are so unaware.”
But a little culture shock did not deter her. Before the year in Germany, Amber had seen Monster at Whim W’Him artistic director/choreographer Olivier Wevers’s retirement gala. Her friends Tory Peil, Kyle Johnson and Andrew Bartee, were already working with him by the time she returned. Amber liked the idea of doing doing new work, and of Olivier’s “collaborative, classically rooted style with a modern edge—deep.” So on her return, he was the first person she contacted.
On January 18-20, 2013, at Intiman Theatre, Whim W’Him is scheduled to perform Olivier’s The Sofa, first commissioned last April by former Pacific Northwest Ballet prima ballerina Patricia Barker, now head of the Grand Rapids Ballet Company. Amber Willett will take her place among the strong and individual dancers in the Seattle premiere of this droll and sophisticated work.
Next up: Surprising moves. A purple sofa attends rehearsal.