Ashley Green smiles when she talks of “a strange love affair, me and dance” that has lasted her whole life. “It was meant to be.” In the first week of March, just before the country closed down, Ashley tried out for Whim W’Him in New York City. She loved the audition “because it was so precise—there was so much detail, you knew what you were aiming for.” Six weeks later, on April 24, Ashley graduated from Point Park University with B.A. and a modern dance major. She then returned home to Charleston, SC, where she stayed until, having been invited to join the company, she came out to Seattle late this summer.
“It was a crazy, scary time to move,” she says. People close to her at home had fallen ill. “A family friend passed away a month after I left—and I was anxious about leaving my parents.” But, it was time to move forward on a new adventure. As in the title of Whim W’Him artistic director Olivier Wevers’s June 2020 dance film, and the poem by William Stafford which inspired it, that’s The Way It Is. The way it is now bears little relation to earlier times, when other dancers became part of Whim W’HIM. Well before they arrived in Seattle, connections between the new dancers—Ashley, Andrew McShea and Michael Arellano—and the company were already many and varied. The three newcomers, who had also known each other beforehand, took part in company Zoom meetings from afar, had communicated about housing and other aspects of their relocation by email & on Facetime, were included in group therapy sessions with wholistic psychologist and former PNB dancer Josh Spell, MSW, and were interviewed for little dance & tell videos by other dancers (Ashley’s with Jane Cracovaner).*
When at last they all reached Seattle, Ashley, Andrew (whom she knew at Point Park) and Michael (with whom she had partnered at the Whim W’Him audition) moved in together. Their ample Capitol Hill apartment, brought to their attention by dancer Jim Kent, was in a building with a lot of character and served as the main backdrop for their first Whim W’Him piece, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s GRASSVILLE film, which premiered Sept 20, 2020.
It’s not how you’d necessarily expect to be introduced to to a new city, but Ashley finds she especially loves the parks of Seattle. With her housemates and other Whim W’Him dancers, she’s also managed to explore Seattle and its environs, learning to know the specific natural beauty of the Northwester.
And as to the company itself, “I was drawn to Whim by how small it is,” says Ashley. No one is left out, and there are no hierarchies. She finds it exciting that the dancers are of different ages and levels of artistic maturity, and that she, as probably the youngest member of the group, gets to live and work so closely with these uniquely individual dancers—as colleagues, mentors and friends. They’re a warm lot, these dancers, and their artistic director, Olivier Wevers, is “a joy and a half,” as Ashley puts it.
She is also thrilled at the prospect of working with so many different choreographers, as the company always does. And then there was the newness of the current enterprise, working in film rather than for live theatrical performance. “It’s making me feel like an actress,” as much as a dancer, says Ashley. The emotional rhythm is so different. “On stage you give all you’ve got,” and that’s the show. While shooting a film, though, you may arrive tired or distracted, and feel flustered in the first clip. But then it gets done again and. If you’re supposed to die on the floor, you have to marshal your forces and do it 10 more times, “until everyone likes it,” and that includes not only the choreographer(s), but the videographer, Quinn Wharton. In short, “filming is a process.”
Living in Seattle is a different experience for Ashley. She finds people “very passionate here—they don’t give up on their ideas,” at least partly because she arrived in the city right in the middle of the summer and neighborhood of protests, for which Whim W’Him had taken a break in memory of George Floyd and the others. A highly unusual introduction to a company, a city and a way of life. This is an extraordinary time for new dancers, experienced dancers and it is, in fact, for everyone in the country. When asked if there’s anything she doesn’t much like about Seattle she promptly mentioned “the rain, or rather the drizzle. I don’t love rain that much. But,” she announces gamely, “I have a rain jacket now!” Rain or no rain, Ashley has leapt right into the middle of Whim W’Him’s creative life. In addition to rehearsing with the rest of the company and preparing for the film of Olivier’s This Is Not The Little Prince, to be released in January 2021, and participating in outdoor popups.
She has become an enthusiastic contributor to the new IN-WITH-WHIM platform. She teaches a 10 minute improv class and a 25 minute general class for young people from 8 up on [both to be found with a subscription in the IN-REACH section of IN-WITH-WHIM]. And she has conceived and danced in to be free, a mini dance film [look for it in DANCE WHIMS] performed to the powerful and prescient words of Nina Simone, who said, in part: An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians. As far as I’m concerned, it’s their choice, but I choose to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself. That, to me, is my duty. And at this crucial time in our lives, when everything is so desperate, when every day is a matter of survival, I don’t think you can help but be involved. Young people, black and white, know this. That’s why they’re so involved in politics. We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore. So I don’t think you have a choice. How can you be an artist and not reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist.”
*For access to everything on Whim W’Him’s IN-WITH-WHIM platform, go to https://www.whimwhim.org/whats-in/
Photo credit: All photos of Whim W’Him in rehearsal or performance are by Stefano Altamura