One of the most intriguing aspects of Whim W’Him artistic director Olivier Wevers’s approach to this suite of danced/sung poems (to debut May 18-20, 2012 at Intiman Theatre) is how he varies his choreographic treatment. Today, at a little summing up preview with Seattle Times critic Michael Upchurch and AE composer Eric Banks,
I saw in order for the first time the whole range of sections that have been created so far.

Sometimes, as in “Down the Street” (see an earlier post), the danced version is quite at odds with the poem, in a deliberate juxtaposition of hidden feelings against external circumstances. The choreography of other poems portrays an abstracted and fanciful impression of a mood: in “On the Sofa, for example, memory is the subject as three men act as a couch for a fourth, who languidly relives past encounters. (This seems to be The Season of the Sofa in Olivier’s work: just last month he created The Sofa for Patricia Barker‘s Grand Rapids Ballet—although there an actual piece of furniture was used.)
Still others, such as “Bodies” or “Senses” or the final piece, “Shadows, become sensuous love duets, casual or profound, recalled or in present time, with male/male and female/female pairings, in addition to the traditional woman/man.

And certain of the poems tell miniature stories, echoed in the dance, as is the case with
In the Vestibule:

Hanging in the vestibule of an opulent home,
There was a magnificent antique mirror,
That had been purchased over eighty years ago.
An exceedingly beautiful boy, the tailor’s assistant
(Who also happened to be an amateur athlete on Sundays),
Waited in the vestibule with a parcel. He handed it over
To the servant of the house, who then took it inside
To fetch a receipt. The tailor’s assistant
Was left by himself, so he lingered there.
He walked up to the mirror, gazed into it,
And straightened his tie. Five minutes later,
The servant brought back a receipt. The boy took it, and left.
The antique mirror had seen and reflected, again and again,
Over the years of its existence,
Thousands of faces and things;
But on that day, the old mirror rejoiced; it took great pride,
And stretched to its fullest height; for, in those few short moments,
The long-forgotten mirror had experienced perfect beauty.

This poem provides a lovely occasion for a reflection dance, Andrew Bartee’s pensive boy echoed by Lucien Postlewaite’s mirror. In an interesting reversal, we the audience witness the scene through the looking glass—from the mirror’s point of view.

When the mirror breaks and reflection joins reflected, the piece conjures— to my mind, at least—Le spectre de la rose. In that Michel Fokine ballet, made famous by Nijinsky,
a young girl falls asleep and dreams of the embodiment of a rose, who comes into her room through a window to dance with her, then exits with a spectacular leap.
(In a curious bit of personal serendipity, both Approaching Ecstasy’s shattering mirror and the rose spirit’s jump recall for me a scene in a fictional ballet I had just invented for the novel I was working on years ago when I first met Olivier.)

This last Tuesday, the first choral rehearsal with string quartet and harp took place. Coming up on the weekend, recordings will be made so that the dancers can rehearse to a full sound track, instead of the present scratchy musical sketch. In day-long rehearsals Olivier rounds out the sections already begun and choreographs new ones, while the dancers refine their understanding and execution. About 3/4 of the basic job is done. Between now and opening night two weeks away, dancers, singers and quartet-plus-harp must meet and rehearse together; sets and costumes must be completed and tried out by dancers and singers; the complex choreography of the whole enterprise, beyond the dancers’ roles, must be thought through, explained and learned. It’s a full schedule, presenting a whole series of formidable challenges. All involved are seasoned professionals, and the final product promises to explode into a whole far greater the sum of parts, but it will be exciting to see how it all works itself out!

Next Tuesday: Look for a profile of Shane Ohmer, Whim W’Him’s newest dancer, just back from Barcelona where he danced in Rock the Ballet‘s Bad Boys of Dance.