Whim W’Him’s Choreographic Shindig 2016 (Brown Paper Tickets) was designed by Whim W’Him artistic director Olivier Wevers to bring the dancers themselves even more into the center of the creative process. The 2016-17 season’s opening program is the second time round of this very successful project. In addition to working (and often collaborating) with a variety of choreographers, for The Shindig the dancers also consider applications—almost 100 this year, decide on the elements needed for a thematically and stylistically varied program, then choose the choreographers who will make new pieces for the show.
Since, even more than usually, this is the Whim W’Him dancers’ show, it seems to me only right to let them have their say in a blog post as well. To be sure, some would much rather dance than talk about their art and craft, but some are eloquent verbally as well as in movement, and today will feature the words of two of Whim W’Him’s dancers.
Patrick Kilbane, who joined the company last year, describes it this way: “Most of the choreographers we work with at Whim W’Him are relatively new to us and the shows are curated (wonderfully) by Olivier. For The Shindig the dancers are given the extremely rare opportunity to go through all of the choreographic applications, watch all the performance and rehearsal videos, read all the interesting proposals…
“And there is something unifying and powerful when we, the 7 dancers, get to come together and create a program of our own. It’s exciting to know that all of these people who applied would love the chance to get to work with us. It not only says a lot about the depth, talent and integrity of the dancers but about the entire Whim W’Him family.
“When the 3 choreographers arrive to begin creation there is already a special kind of energy that exists between us, a deep understanding that, yes, we have really chosen one another. We are going to make magic together. It’s a lot like love.”
Tory Peil, with Whim W’Him since 2012, has her own unique observations as a dancer involved in The Shindig: “Dancers are known to complain. We just do. The life of a dancer (artist) is hard and one way of getting through it is complaining. Airing your grievances so you can move on and get the job done. A fascinating part of being responsible for the choosing the choreographers is that at the end of the day if I hate a particular creator’s process, or even a piece in general (although in 2 years of The Shindig this has yet to happen) I can’t really complain. I had the power to choose someone out of hundreds of applicants and I chose this destiny, however unpleasant it might sometimes be.
“It gives me new appreciation for the gamble Olivier takes on incoming choreographers. He gives them a blank canvas and say’s ‘I believe in you, create anything your heart desires,’ and then he steps away. The result can be really wonderful or a bit of a dud, but that is art. You have to be prolific to figure out what your voice is and if someone decides to take a left turn and take a big, possibly ‘unsuccessful’ new direction with the piece they set for Whim W’Him there is such worth in that. The PROCESS, growing and learning as artists, is why we do what we do.
“It’s not for the applause…or lack there of. So being the one to choose a choreographer and then just stand there and be vulnerable enough to say, ‘do what you will, I am your canvas,’ is a brave and exhilarating thing to do.
“I’m incredibly proud of the decisions my fellow company members and I have made. Last year’s show was a fascinating grab bag of entertainment as far as the audience was concerned. But for us, we grew so much in working with those three choreographers and again this year, we have been pushed in ways we never thought imaginable. We were thoughtful in our choosing and have curated two years of programs that leave us feeling fulfilled and hopefully that spills over into the audience’s experience.“
“Every time we step into the studio for a new creation I am terrified. It’s like the first day of school after a long summer break. I sit at home on Sunday night convincing myself that I’ve forgotten how to dance, I’ve forgotten how to learn things quickly, that I won’t be cast in the piece. Why do I put myself through this stress?! I should just quit. And I usually can’t find my favorite outfit.
“Monday morning inevitably rolls around and the first steps, or ideas are thrown at us and I look around at my fellow company members sweating, being present, giving into all kinds of vulnerability and I am immediately reminded of why I do this. The joy is in watching a choreographer share and cultivate a process with the 7 of us. The pain, the fear, the drive, the selflessness, the stamina that they pull out of us are things that we could never have achieved without them.”
“Each of the pieces that have been made so far take place in very different worlds. I am so looking forward to learning how to inhabit each of these worlds with only a sweaty 15 minute intermission between each one. Tapping into a feeling, or memory, or idea to conjure up a world within that black box theater fascinates me more than doing the steps perfectly. And these three choreographers have laid before us 3 vastly different environments that I can’t wait to wade through each performance.”