Seattle was enjoying gleeful hysterics a week or so ago in its role as the 12th Man.
An interesting concept that, one which—for all the commercialism and hype—
gets at a crucial and universal element of every fine performance in sports or the arts:
the people out there watching, flinging forth their crucial energy and good vibes while drawing into themselves something very personal and deep.
Whether the numbers are in the Seahawks‘ millions or Whim W’Him‘s lower thousands, a necessary exchange between viewers & performers is part of any winning show.
Critical reviews for Whim W’Him‘s Instantly Bound program were great,* but what matters even more in the long run is audience reaction. This time in particular, there has been a lot of viewer feedback—funny, grave, occasionally snarky, in some cases downright adulatory—at performances and Q&A sessions, via emails, and from an audience survey that many took online afterwards.
Most of the responses were of the “Wonderful, powerful, dynamic, serious, fun!“ variety, in fact overwhelmingly so—“As always beyond terrific.” “Great company, great experience.” “ABSOLUTELY THRILLED!” and many more…
People loved the manic energy of Whim W’Him artistic director Olivier Wevers‘s Les Sylphides, the sensuality of Juanjo Arques‘s Crossroads, and were moved by Olivier’s somber Instantly Bound. The intimacy of the theatrical experience was also praised as were the dancers who made it work. Greg Bokor‘s gun drawing, and its being erased by audience members, received many positive comments as well.
Yet naturally there were also the usual contradictions. Even as most viewers reveled in the variety of mood and choreography of the three pieces, a couple complained that they were too similar in style. A few reactions came from audience members for whom Whim W’Him is clearly just not their cup of tea. So much is, as Olivier says, “a matter of choice and taste. You shouldn’t come to Whim W’Him expecting to just feel the expected and comfortable.”
For me, the fascinating part in all this is how performing artists—choreographers, dancers, all those involved in a production—like writers or anyone else whose work is assessed by others, find ways (as the old song goes) to “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative,” and yet stay open to useful critiques.
In college I had a Swiss friend who relished juicy old Americanisms, like “cash on the barrel-head.” One of his favorites was “Let’s face it!” which he always said before disparaging something, as if praise were a trap for the naïve or unwary, and the only reality you could count on or believe in was an unpleasant one that had to be faced.
A very dubious approach to life I’ve realized since.
In fact, a few people will likely adore whatever one does, a few will dislike it regardless. The trick is keep one’s ears open for substantive criticism, yet not be overwhelmed by mere noise in the system. Getting beyond bowing to every contrary wind without building a sound-proof fortress around one’s work requires a finely tuned balancing act, worthy of a master juggler or Swan Lake‘s Odile with her 32 fouettés.
Vital to any artist who not only survives but thrives is the ability to continue believing in the truth, value and efficacy of the work, even in the face of self-doubt or carping outer voices. Olivier’s 2013 piece, I don’t remember a spark, was a meditation on the baggage that he, like any artist, brings to his choreography. And of course audience members carry their own baggage into the theater as well. This rich mix feeds the essential continuing dialogue between performers and viewers, creating the multiplicity of meaning that characterizes exciting art.
So thank you Whimmers all, for your enthusiasm and candor. Your devotion and curiosity are our basic fuel. Whim W’Him cannot run without you!!!
*Here are some links to reviews:
A Dazzling Step Forward for Whim W’Him (Alice Kaderlan, “FeetFirst” blog, PI)
Whim W’Him’s ‘Instantly Bound’ is a study in dance contrasts (Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times)
Whim W’him Primed for Primetime (Charlotte Hart, Seattle Dances)
Olivier Wevers: The Benefits Of Baggage (Marcie Sillman, “And Another Thing…” blog)
Photo credit: Bamberg Fine Art Photography