What is essential work? Official definitions change every few days and differently in different places. But beyond the basic physical requirements for sustenance and rudimentary health, some needs—like art; love in its widest meanings of connection with others; a sense of play—are primal, necessary to the sustaining of human culture and life worth living. For lovers of dance, whether watchers or doers, casually or professionally, it is essential for dance to be part of our lives.
But as spring shows are cancelled and fall seasons scrapped or put on hold, how can that happen for dance companies and their audiences who rely on mutually nourishing each other in live performance? The good news is that innovation and creation are flourishing to an unusual degree in the dance world just now, despite and even because of this long, strange crisis.
Take Whim W’Him. The brain of founder, artistic director and principal choreographer Olivier Wevers has been teeming with ideas—as have the minds of choreographer Penny Saunders and the dancers, who are working hard to reimagine the show originally planned with three choreographers and intended to open last Friday night. They, along with the company’s other members and collaborators (including an essential new addition to the roster, cinematographer Quinn Wharton) are creating a whole new platform that can be accessed by anyone across the planet and preparing a Spring Program of two new works on film.
What started out in the early days of pandemic sequestration as daily mutual support sessions of the dancers and Olivier have metamorphosed into packed tri-weekly Zoom work sessions to troubleshoot and report on the progress of the various Task Forces that are envisioning and bringing into being the future face of Whim W’Him:
Dance & Tell – a series of interviews and chats
Dancers have become IT specialists, teachers, ad hoc choreographers, video interviewers, you name it, learning on the fly as they collaborate to construct , a new online platform to be officially launched live on Facebook with Whim W’Him’s Dance and Tell: Season 11 Announcement
In a statement issued on June 3, Olivier Wevers and Keri Kellerman said, in part: “We’ve made the decision to postpone our virtual event, Dance and Tell, which was scheduled for Thursday, June 4 [and then June 18]. In this time of national trauma, when racial injustices have been made so clear, it feels wrong for us to move ahead with this event. This is not the moment to focus on Whim W’Him. This is a moment for mourning, reflection and meaningful action…”
More information will be forthcoming.
For the dancers, all this is in addition to rehearsing, on their own at homes or in outdoors, Manifold, a new at-a-distance creation by Penny, working now from Salt Lake City, and a new piece of Olivier, in Seattle but also separated for reasons of Covid caution.
I think of Jane Cracovaner demonstrating a zoom sequence from the narrow confines of her kitchen, periodically repositioning her phone from a counter top to the floor so the other dancers watching can see both her upper body and her legs.
Or the challenges of socially distanced rehearsals in public parks and parking lots.*
Just to further complexify (dubious word, but expressive) matters, 3 current dancers will leave this summer.
Mia Monteabaro, strong, graceful mainstay of the company since the 2012-23 season, is retiring from Whim W’Him.
Cameron Birts, whose style and passionate intensity brought him audience acclaim, is moving on to other things,
as is Adrian Hoffman, whose versatility, intelligence and questing mind have enlivened the Whim W’Him stage.
Meanwhile three new dancers are beginning to integrate themselves into the company, joining Whim meetings on Zoom, filming interviews with present dancers and trying to find places to live once their imminent moves have taken place. (More on all three of them in the weeks to come.)
Andrew (Andy) McShea will soon be making his way to Seattle from Chicago,
Ashley Green is coming from Charleston, SC,
…and Michael Arellano will arrive from Michigan.
Welcome to these brilliant new dancers!
•How Whim W’Him is creating intimate theater while keeping social distance
•Collaboration between choreographers Penny Saunders & Olivier Wevers and cinematographer Quinn Wharton
•Features: on retiring dancer Mia Monteabaro plus the 3 newcomers
•A closer look at the new streaming service
Current dancer and Olivier images by: Stefano Altamura
Penny Saunders photo by: Bamberg Fine Arts