“The first day is always hard.

The steps are an excuse,” says Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, who is choreographing the main work of Whim W’Him’s next full program. Yet with time and maturity as a choreographer, “you gain emotional intelligence and skill in how to communicate.

Mistakes are welcome, maybe the best idea. You let it happen,” she says. “It’s all about the process. Openness. If you don’t think about it, it becomes unique.”

The group for this Whim W’Him program is small, only 6 dancers—2 women and four men (Olivier may be one).

Total time is limited, and so rehearsal periods need to be long—this June, when the work was begun, in October, when it will be expanded, in January 2011, before the show at Intiman Theatre. One of the ensemble sections started quite simply, when the dancers and Annabelle started to be exhausted by the end of the afternoon. “Let’s do an arm section,” she said, and “good things came of it. Now it’s perhaps going to be the center, the leitmotiv of the piece, going from quite still and blank emotionally to much more expressive, even anguished.”

I love to watch Annabelle at work. The section for “four boys,” for example—it’s like live billiard balls.Each movement passes to another person, to a part of a body— a hand goes to a cheek, which pushes the head back, so it comes in contact with a shoulder… a whole series of transferred motions, like a Rube Goldberg contraption.

But billiard ball and machine metaphors are too mechanical. This work is infused with a strong sense of interconnectedness, complexity, propulsion— then  interruption. Things are clearly related, yet as in life it’s sometimes not clear what they mean, and they are liable—in this piece about disturbance, disruptions—to be stopped, arbitrarily, at any instant.

Annabelle repeatedly takes the place of one or the other dancers to figure out and demonstrate the next move. A bit ends in a “pigpile” on the floor. Annabelle pauses for a moment, laughing and thinking, then hops up and says, “So, how can we make it so you don’t have to…”Despite the somberness of the theme, there is a lot of laughter in the studio, a good feeling among the dancers as Annabelle works, a lot of receptivity to her ideas.

Even when they had an hour off from working, dancers often stayed in the studio to watch. Some of what she asks of them is quite unlike what they have attempted before. Think of switching between the spine of a racehorse…and that of a snake…

Annabelle started this new piece for Whim W’Him just with a trio and duet in mind.

Now it has grown to include:

  • The trio—Olivier-Andrew Bartee-Chalnessa Eames (all from Pacific Northwest Ballet)
  • The duet—Melody Herrera (Houston Ballet) and Lucien Postlethwaite (PNB)
  • An ensemble of six—the above plus Vincent Lopez (no relation to Annabelle, of Spectrum Dance)
  • A section for four men
  • And a short duet for two women.

On the last day, says Olivier (I was out of town), “She put everything together made all the transitions, and there all of a sudden were 24 minutes.”

Annabelle seems to me
a perfect match for Whim W’Him…

She says, in the same spirit as Olivier, “The more I prepare, the more I get stuck.”

Although they have strong ideas and intentions about a piece, neither likes to over-prepare specifics before going into the studio. The works of both are suffused with the spontaneity and particularity

of creating directly on/with the dancers.

  • They use a wide variety of music, classical and otherwise.
  • They employ classical technique (including pointe shoes) along with very modern, unballetic positions and ways of moving.
  • Expressive hands feature prominently in the work of both.
  • A whimsical, humorous approach is evident in Annabelle’s conversation and way of working, as well as in her other works (if perhaps less so in this piece because of its theme).

And yet, in a program of Annabelle and Olivier pieces side-by-side, two radically individual sensibilities will leap out, to intrigue and absorb the eye, the mind, and the heart.