A Black Box, but not tiny. Though the seats are few in number (150), the stage is large (50’ wide, about 40’ deep without wings or backdrop, 15’ up to the lights).
Guest choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa—creating her third new piece for Whim W’Him, to premiere in the May program*—was delighted when she saw the Erickson Theatre last week, having expected one of the miniscule performance spaces that go by that name in Amsterdam and elsewhere. No more need for her to curtail the size of movement or keep the dancers herded into half the rehearsal space. So what sort of creation will Annabelle bring into being on this wide blank floor?
It is Annabelle’s third work for women only. Previously, for other dance companies, she’s investigated various aspects of femininity. This time, “I want to take away the tricks—no high heels, no long loose hair” and use different kinds of motion. “Lately,” she adds, “I’ve been interested in surreal, fantastic pieces, creating worlds that don’t exist.”
In rehearsal last week, she was quarrying this vein with Whim W’Him’s women, imagining and elaborating on a race of goddess-like female creatures who grow out of stones. She envisions Amazon women of a far away land, a place, a pueblo, a village where they live. Rather like a society of people in the jungles of Brazil or Papua New Guinea—”just discovered, never before in contact with us. They have different rules, more animalistic,” Annabelle says. Portraying them, “I can talk about female behavior” in a less culture-bound way. The conception gives her “more of a playground to go further.” She continues, “Dance is visual—you have to look, and ‘decypher’ what you see.”
What we, as the audience, will see is a collection of four female creatures born out of rock, in bald caps, no visible hair, with long, long nails. The bodies of the four are flexible, the shapes they make curved. But they stop crisply, instantly, together.
Contrary to rumor, Whim W’Him dancers won’t be keeping their socks on for the whole May show. The creatures’ feet in Annabelle’s new work started with socks, but now are bare. They need to grab the floor. “More earthy, more grounded,” she says, in keeping with the sort of goddess-women whose strange lives and habits she explores. In socks, the dancers would slide about too much. Instead, they walk on high half-toe, and their hips are implicated in all their movements.
Curious but wary, they approach each other, ready to rush away or dart in to threaten. Watching the process of their creation/invention/discovery in the studio is like witnessing at once an anthropological investigation and a quasi-logical series of inferences from certain movement premises.
The new piece, which still is seeking its proper title and definitive music, is a bit more constrained than usual for Annabelle. This time Whim W’Him artistic director Olivier Wevers asked her to choreograph something for women only. Since this characteristic is a given, she finds it an interesting challenge to work creatively within it, turning limitation to advantage and opportunity.
Click here for a video of Annabelle & glimpses of her new creation in action by videographer Day Kol
*In addition to the usual weekends, Whim W’Him is trying out some new times—a Saturday matinée, a Wednesday and a couple of Thursday evening shows. Eight performances in all (be sure to check curtain times when you buy your tickets).
Whim W’Him: #unprotected – Brown Paper Tickets
Photo credit: Molly Magee for Bamberg Fine Art