“I was a theater kid,” says Patrick Kilbane, Whim W’Him‘s newest dancer. “When I was little I sang in the Seattle Opera Children’s Chorus and fell in love with the big stage,” from all accounts early and hard. That was in the old Seattle Opera House before it was remodeled into McCaw Hall. Growing up on Bainbridge Island, Patrick also did community theater and voice work for some video games. “Dance was the missing part.” At 14 he started classes at the Bainbridge Dance Center. Middle school can be a challenging moment to begin serious dance training. “I was at the beginning of pubescence,” Patrick says, “my body was changing a lot.” But the teachers at BDC “took care of me. I was being fed all this information and I soaked it up.” The physical outlet, technical mastery, and means of self-expression offered by dance were a fine counter to the angst of adolescence. As time went on, Patrick divided his days between high school and classes at Pacific Northwest Ballet‘s Phelps Center in Seattle.
He did summer intensive courses at San Francisco Ballet School and New York City Ballet‘s School of American Ballet as well, and “fell in love with the Balanchine aesthetic and style.” Two years later, Patrick was offered a full scholarship at SFBS. By then he was a high school sophomore and convinced his parents, who were always very encouraging, to let him move to San Francisco, where he danced and did independent study with a tutor, graduating from high school. “I got what I wanted, living in a big city and dancing,” he says, “but there were some challenges along the way.” A demanding but exhilarating life. For his first year he lived in an apartment, for the second in a big old house in Pacific Heights that the ballet had purchased as a sort of dormitory for the advanced students—a fascinating and international bunch of kids, according to Patrick.
At the PNB school and SAB, he was trained in the Balanchine aesthetic, some teachers— among them Peter Boal, now artistic director of PNB—having worked with Mr. B himself. In San Francisco, he says, the dancing was different, you might say more “machismo,” at any rate more Latin, with a number of dancers from Cuba, Spain and Brazil. Training and watching the companies perform in both places, Patrick notes, was a very good way for a student to experience a wide range of balletic style.
After his two years in San Francisco, Patrick returned to Seattle and the PNB Professional Division, during the transition from the Kent Stowell–Francia Russell leadership of the company to Peter Boal’s. At the end of a year in the PD, Patrick was offered an apprenticeship with Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland, under Christopher Stowell.
At OBT Patrick was first introduced to more contemporary styles of ballet, learning works of such luminaries as William Forsythe and working directly with choreographers like Trey McIntyre—”I really looked up to him.”
“Something was very appealing to me—I connected to Balanchine,” says Patrick, “but I wanted more, more athleticism, range, risk, new ideas.” In his two seasons at OBT, Patrick got to dance a lot. In addition he became aware that “there was another thing going on in Portland,” namely Northwest Dance Project, run by Sarah Slipper, who “loves dance and is so passionate about it. She finds all these different choreographic voices and looks from all over the country and world.”
Sarah became his mentor and “melded me into a true contemporary ballet dancer. I got to discover my own—rediscover myself there. I’ll forever be grateful for her mentorship.” Patrick adds, “I spent 6 wonderful seasons there,” during which he danced and choreographed and taught and learned. (Choreography is something he wants to do more of in the future, but for now “I’m being patient about it.”) “Northwest Dance Project,” he concludes, “is the most amazing group of dancers and people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with—that and the one I’m joining now, Whim W’Him!”
Earlier this year, during a period of soul searching, when he was feeling lost and needing to regroup, Patrick came home to the Seattle area. “I had to make decisions about what kind of man I wanted to be. It was a time of a lot of changes,” during which he instituted a daily practice and turned himself toward keeping a spiritual life. It’s very different existing in the confines of a sheltering company and being on one’s own. But, Patrick has managed to “put together an amazing support system in Seattle of friends—and family, for whose continued support over the years I’m very grateful.”
Since his return, he’s been involved with Velocity Dance Center, teaching himself and learning from Velocity director Tonya Lockyer, who has become a mentor to him, and whom he praises as a master teacher who knows all about dance history as well.
And now there’s Whim W’Him. Back when he was a young dance student at PNB, Patrick says, “I grew up watching Olivier [Wevers, Whim W’Him’s founder and artistic director]. I looked up to him a lot,” greatly admiring his dancing, not just technique, “but his amazing performance quality.”
“My transition to Whim W’Him,” says Patrick, “has been seamless, thanks to Olivier and the dancers. I’ve been watching Whim W’Him for years, at the beginning and seeing it growing, becoming more versatile and strong. I wanted to be part of it from the start.”
When a spot opened up this fall, Olivier offered it to Patrick, who grins as he says,
“I accepted right away.” He remarks that “though I try to set things up for myself and have goals, I also go with the flow.” His joining Whim W’Him is both, at once a serendipitous event and the outcome of all his previous choices, planning, and training.