love starts here

This tagline, motto and premise of Whim W’Him’s January program, CONFIGURATE, is endorsed in a common statement* by its 3 choreographers, Gabrielle Lamb, Ihsan Rustem and artistic director Olivier Wevers.

Nature is a two-edged sword, amoral, with no bias to good in an ethical sense or towards continually upward evolution. In hard times it often seems as if struggle and anger are the only natural emotions. When Abraham Lincoln hopefully, even desperately, invoked “the better angels of our natures,” in ending his First Inaugural Address (delivered in 1861, just before the outbreak of the Civil War), he lit upon a key and vital metaphor. Our natures are comprised not only of what makes life worth living—love, compassion, empathy, tolerance, aesthetic sensibility, reason. They also contain fallen angels and demons, of cruel and ungovernable appetites, who are always there within us.

In our skeptical and distracted age, anticipating ‘happily-ever-after’ endings or endorsing saccharine Hallmark card sentiments is out of fashion. But we can err, too, by hiding our heads in the sand, taking refuge in cynicism or turning a blind eye to the rogue elephant in the room. Individually and together we need to find ways to use our talent and passion as instruments and expressions of Love, Compassion and Empathy.

Ihsan’s new piece is, among other things, a meditation on compassion for those unlike ourselves. Notes on Gabrielle’s first creation for Whim W’Him will be the subject of next week’s post. Olivier Wevers is composing Love Letters. I first heard him musing on the subject well over a year ago, when he was reading famous love letters and contemplating a piece for the program closest to Valentine’s Day, 2018.

The plan originally was to create a series of romantic duets based on words of love. Late this summer, though, Olivier made a momentous trip back to his native Belgium, where his father is suffering from dementia and a host of physical ills. In the course of that sojourn, encounters with his estranged father’s deterioration, his stressed and exhausted mother, and an angry, alienated brother led him to ponder more deeply on the nature and different forms of love. In coming to terms with intensely and painfully personal emotions, Olivier needed to work out how, when love is strained even to the breaking point, one can reimagine and reignite it, or even, if need be, recover from it.

Lincoln also said in that first inaugural speech, We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. In the bosom of our own families as in the greater society of our country and world, we have to find ways to make the abstract ideas of love, compassion and empathy into concrete practice. This ongoing struggle is what makes us human it the best of senses. And making art can become a universal, shareable part of the process of private healing and reuniting.

The Love Letters Olivier is now writing in dance take the form of 6 intimate notes-in-movement: the complex turmoil of To oneself [Jim Kent & Karl Watson],

the painful and humorous To an ex [Adrian Hoffman & Tory Peil],

the  poignant and ambivalent To a mother [Liane Aung, Mia Monteabaro & Tory Peil] (which wasn’t run the day photographer Kim Bamberg came), the alienation and reconciliation of  To a brother [Cameron Birts & Jim],

the conflicted To a father [Adrian Hoffman & Cameron],

and the tender To the one [Liane & Karl].

*In these troubled times filled with hatred, fear, discord and irreconcilable opinions, we have undertaken to create new contemporary dance works that will inspire love, compassion and empathy.

We feel strongly that dance creations can be a conduit to open dialogue, a source of hope and a tool for understanding and acceptance. Art has the power to heal. What the world needs now is more love, compassion and empathy. It is not sentimental romanticism, but a deep truth that love conquers all.

We are angry, disappointed and worried about the future,
but we will resist hatred and violence.
We are dance peace-makers and dreamers.
We aspire to create transformative dances that bring people together,
brave dances with a message of universality.
Our instruments are humor, hope and collaboration,
imagination and a joy in movement…

Our pressing task, the activism we feel compelled to engage in, calls attention away from click-bait trendy catchwords which so easily substitute for both facts and ideas. We refuse to engage in the shallow fast-food culture touted by social media. We dream of a physical poetry that reaches the visceral core.

By injecting love, compassion and empathy into the center of our creations, we hope to imbue them with enough sense and morality to help dissolve the chain of hate.

By holding true to ourselves as artists, creative witnesses of our times, we fulfill our mission to affirm our best instincts.

We search not for solutions but paths away from pain and suffering. We offer an opportunity to share feelings and emotions. In reaffirming our identities and our sense of self, we strive to create transformative moments. We trust that we will elicit a hopeful boost of courage to help all of us remember the beauty of the human spirit and to make more space in our hearts for love, compassion and empathy.

Up Next: The creative process of Gabrielle Lamb, latest choreographer to make a new piece on Whim W’Him, and the third of those in the upcoming program to set her work on the dancers.

Photo credit: Bamberg Fine Art Photography