After a ‘mini-sabbatical’ to finish revising a few chapters of a novel, I’m back on the job with a series of posts on Whim W’Him dancers’ dancing lives, starting with Andrew Bartee, whose day job is dancing with Pacific Northwest Ballet. I talked last Sunday with him (and Lucien Postlewaite, also of PNB), after a Whim W’Him photo shoot.

Working regularly with Whim W’Him, while also employed full-time with PNB, has presented Andrew with both a challenge and an amazing range of learning possibilities. But it is the latter that seems to strike him most. As a member of the corps who also does solo work, he was scheduled for many rehearsal hours during the run-up to PNB’s massive new production of Don Quixote. In early and mid-January, before Whim W’Him’s Cast the First Rock in Twenty-Twelve, he was preparing for both programs at once. He was learning corps parts and the role of Gamache for Don Q. At the same time Whim W’Him artistic director/choreographer Olivier Wevers was creating the critically acclaimed Flower Festival for him and Lucien. Yet Andrew is remarkably matter-of-fact about the difficulties of his demanding schedule.

“I’ve learned so much from doing both at once,” he says. “Most people don’t learn how to work smart so soon. I figured out… no, I realized the difference between slacking off and working smart. You have to give it more thought.” He pauses. “Then you get so you just manage, without thinking. You learn to pace yourself.”

“Working smart” is a matter of balance. It includes taking on types of dance work that feed each other rather than competing. Olivier’s choreography has, as Lucien puts it,
“a somewhat lower physical impact.” But the movements are very different, sometimes quite antithetical to classical ballet and take some getting used to. Andrew clearly finds the contrast stimulating and fascinating, stretching his understanding and broadening his vocabulary. I’ve often watched him in rehearsal. He avidly swallows up new ways of moving like a growing kid who can’t get enough food. And it shows in his dancing.

Learning to pace yourself “is a maturity thing,” remarks Lucien, barely 28 but a seasoned dancer. “When you’re young, you have so much energy—and sometimes that can be less beneficial. I wish I’d had Andrew’s experience sooner [of learning time management]. In the corps, there’s not so much that forces you to do it early. He’s a very mature dancer for his age [21], and having to learn to work smart has made him dance better.”

Andrew adds that he loves the tremendous energy you can feel in a large production, such as in the first act of Don Quixote, as well as his easy camaraderie with the other younger guys at PNB; while as part of Whim W’Him, he dances roles choreographed on him and experiences the thrill of inventing new work in an atmosphere of collective creativity. “In WhW’H,” he says, “I’m never lost in a crowd of people. It gives me a chance to shine, and I take that feeling with me everywhere.”

With hands outstretched, he exclaims: “I’m so fortunate to have all these opportunities, these people offering—giving so much.”

Up next: The dancing life of Lucien Postlewaite