It’s exhilarating to see things coming together. I don’t think I’ll ever get over the thrill of watching the final shape come to a show, like an old fashioned photograph appearing out of developer. Extra special this time around is the joy of seeing the Whim W’Him company melded together, no longer divided into modern and ballet dancers or people from this company or that but all Whimmers together, exchanging jokes and confidences, asking each other about particular steps or sequences, sharing the sense of a common enterprise.
Today (Thursday) I’ll write impressions of the reimagined 3Seasons, tomorrow a post on Monster in the context of partnering, and also tomorrow (or perhaps Saturday), some words about Whim W’Him artistic director Olivier Wever’s new piece, INAT$ (It’s Not about the Money).
After the final performance of 3Seasons last winter, both Olivier and Byron Au Yong, the composer, felt there were things that needed changing, adding or subtracting. For the premiere of 3Seasons, Byron wrote a whole suite, a piece for each of the Vivaldi’s seasons.
In performance, one of Byron’s seasons (chosen at random shortly before the show) was substituted for the Vivaldi season. Not surprisingly, there were both exciting and unsatisfying aspects to this procedure. So many things were going on at once, it was a bit hard to follow what was happening on stage. Composer and choreographer alike saw elements that needed elucidating and simplifying.
In the dance itself, Olivier wanted a clearer narrative thread to bind the disparate sections together and emphasize the themes of climate change and human despoilment of the earth. The roles of two single figures— danced by Jim Kent and Kaori Nakamura, more or less representing us humans and nature or earth, respectively—were expanded.
Many changes, some substantial, some miniscule, have been made in the choreography, for reasons known only to Olivier’s choreographic sensibility. But watching rehearsals, I could see how much emphasis he’s putting on streamlining the movement, making transitions cleaner, eliminating unneeded motion or gesture. It has been like watching an expert gardner prune an orchard of fruit trees.
Watching a tech run-through yesterday was exciting. Once again, I was dazzled by the wizardry of lighting designer Michael Mazzola. It seemed to me that either the lighting has been enhanced and developed, keyed more closely to the progression of the dance, but Michael says it has remained pretty much the same, so I must have simply forgotten some of its amazing nuances.
Be that as it may, the new scenic elements by Casey Curran interact to magical effect with the lighting. The setting conjures up a junkyard, the detritus we have to negotiate to live our lives. In succeeding seasons, with different washes of color behind, Casey’s cardboard constructions (assembled from scratch before each show) assume alternate shapes and colorations. Sometimes silhouetted, sometimes lighted/shadowed on different planes, in certain lights they seem almost slate-blue, at others they echo the skin-tones of the dancers.
Furthermore, Casey’s tumbledown setting literally takes the edges off the stage’s regular rectangle, while its static, composite pieces, all straight-edged and angular, play off the rounded forms of the moving dancer’s bodies.
All this is new.
But the music has undergone the greatest change. In the present iteration of 3Seasons, only Autumn employs the new music of Byron, which has been both drawn in and expanded. Instead of violin, percussion, toy piano, and electronic sounds, the composition is now pared down to a single violin heard against a city soundscape of cars and an electronic hum. In performance the violin will be played by much the praised and prized Michael Jinsoo Lim (Pacific Northwest Ballet concertmaster and co-founder of the Corigliano Quartet). The first movement of Byron’s new Autumn has a jumbled sound. Vivaldi comes in only in snatches, as real music and… as a cell phone ring tone. It’s a 21st century landscape, of timid trust in an unimaginable future warring against barely suppressed chaos and despair. There is, as Byron says, a clear sense of something missing.
Yet for me at least, this apprehension of loss changes as the season unrolls. Last week, after re-observing his bleak take on the Vivaldi Winter (that ends his ballet), I said to Olivier, “This sure doesn’t finish on any note of redemption, does it?” to which he assented. But yesterday, watching the season that preceeds it, I felt an unexpectedly different note in Autumn’s final movement. By this time, the clutter and static of the earlier sections of Byron’s soundscape are burned away. The violin plays on alone, its sound harsh, seer, but purified, clean. As if, out of the dross that we’ve made from our world, one clear, authentic, silver voice has been refined—or might be. Perhaps this line of music represents another chance for the human race, a sounder basis for a better, more sustainable and earth-centric future. Whether we can save ourselves and our world, or if the centuries to come hold only the peace of cessation, is still, of course, obscure and will remain so well beyond our time. I might be talking through my hat, but ever optomistic, I asked Byron after rehearsal, “Is Autumn maybe where hope creeps into 3Seasons?”
His answer was a broad, if enigmatic, grin.
Photos by Kim & Adam Bamberg: LaViePhoto.com
About the Author Victoria Farr Brown
I am a writer, mostly of fiction, based in Seattle, and a long-time lover of dance.
Behind the Scenes focuses on WhimW’Him—Olivier Wever’s dance company, formed in 2009 and now affiliated with Intiman Theatre—its projects, artists, and whatever ideas, whimsical or otherwise, occur to me in the course of watching the company grow.