Step One—the idea. Olivier Wevers, artistic director of Whim W’Him thought up the notion of both “supporting emerging choreographic talent and simultaneously empowering our dancers by placing them at the helm of the curating process.” Company dancers signed on enthusiastically, and The Choreoraphic Shindig was born.
Says dancer Tory Peil, “I don’t know of any other companies that give the reins for an entire performance curation to the dancers. I was a little trepidatious because once we pick who we’d like to work with we have no right to complain or dislike the process. We kind of make our bed and then have to sleep in it. But the outcome has been incredible.
I think we really respect and hold the people we’ve chosen in such high regard that the process feels like such a big honor.” Plus a lot of work—and a lot of fun.
Step Two—the selection process. In July 2014, Whim W’Him posted an international call for choreographers. The company received 95 applications from across the world and applicants ranging in experience and diversity. Decisions were made at a series of dancer get-togethers.
In the words of dancer Jim Kent, “The daunting task of going through 95 submissions had me spreading out the work over a few weeks— about 4 2-hour sessions to get through all of the applicants (I scored and took a few notes for each choreographer). I’ve sat on a few selection panels in the past (On the Boards/Northwest New Works & Velocity’s Next Fest), so this felt like familiar territory, and I most enjoy talking about the work, whether it’s interesting, why is it interesting, what are the differences in criteria among the other dancers, etc. In this type of selection process, you really start to hone what you think works and what doesn’t, what a strong application is and isn’t—and also, that after analyzing and talking about so many applications, you don’t know WHAT’s good or bad anymore. At that point, I find it helps to have another mimosa and peanut butter/banana pancake (thanks for hosting, Justin!).”
Dancer Kyle Matthew Johnson says, “The process of creating this new rep has been exciting. From watching the submissions, selecting our top 10s, comparing our top 10s and seeing how varied our own personal tastes were, to finally selecting our final 3. In making our final selections, we really had to take into consideration a lot of factors, from where the choreographers lived (taking our budget into consideration, we couldn’t bring in 3 international choreographers), to the general style and feel of the choreographers work (we didn’t want a program of 3 pieces that all looked and felt the same), to our desire to work with the choreographers (there were so many great choreographers on the list, we also had to take into consideration how much we personally wanted to work with a particular artist). Now that we have had the chance to work with all of the selected choreographers, and their works are in various stages of completion, I personally think we did a really great job. Each of the pieces is distinct and different, and all very interesting, and the choreographers have all been so much fun to work with.”
The first crop of dancer-selected choreographers (the Shindig is now going to be a regular part of the Whim W’Him season) includes 3 award-winning artists hailing from Texas, San Francisco, and Switzerland. Joshua Peugh, founder and artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance; Maurya Kerr, founder of tinypistol and winner of the 2011 Hubbard Street National Choreographic Competition; and Ihsan Rustem, the winner of Sadler’s Wells Global Dance Contest in 2012.
All 3 choreographers were new to Whim W’Him and were invited to join the dancers in the studio for four-week residencies, each to create a new piece for an upcoming show.
Step Three—creating. Then the real work began for the 7 Whim W’Him dancers:
Kyle Matthew Johnson—
Justin comments on the variety of fascinating challenges the Whim W’Him dancers have faced. “All three choreographers had vastly different processes. Joshua would typically create on the spot, Maurya would come prepared with movement and tasks, and Ihsan would develop material based on ideas, partnering, or a ‘base’ phrase of choreography. Experiencing all of these different approaches to creation, rehearsal, effort vs ease, and physicality has pushed my boundaries immensely.”
The process has been both exhausting and exhilarating. As Tory adds, “Lately choreographers have been using most if not all 7 of us in every piece which means there isn’t any moment backstage to stop and slowly switch gears to the next piece. It’s literally curtain down on one piece/environment/world, go upstairs, dry your sweaty body, change your clothes, go downstairs, curtain up, welcome to a completely different world where we speak different languages, see the environment through different eyes and interact in all new ways than we were 15 minutes ago. That skill of switching worlds in a matter of minutes has been difficult but thrilling. It’s something I think as a group we will grow into and hopefully start to become known as very versatile artists who can inspire choreographers with all different styles.”