Watching rehearsals over several weeks in October, I amused myself by making a list of characteristics Whim W’Him artistic director/chief choreographer Olivier Wevers looks for and of patterns in how he works.
•Tracing. Making a shape on the floor or in the air with a foot or arm. The sense of drawing a particular, intended form-in-motion, not just waving the limbs about.
“It’s not about getting into position. It’s about tracing, so it’s part of the movement.“
•Anti-prettiness. “Too pretty, too clean, too nice,” he’ll say with a wry smile, “It’s engrained in your body,” and he will exhort a dancer not to concentrate on getting the energy out to the tip of the line, but keeping it “in the core.” He emphasizes non-balletic positions of the body—the “sickle-pickle” foot, the leg held high to the side. Gawky, even what he sometimes calls “ugly” movements.
•But pro-beauty, I think, in the sense that he constantly strives to elicit the aesthetic pleasure of beautifully executed, dramatically satisfying and emotionally moving shapes.
•Flow. Each movement feeds into the next in Olivier’s work, without pausing at the in-between stages in positions or poses. “It’s not a series of small, crisp individual snapshot positions. But more focused, each thing becoming part of what comes next.” There are stops, certain featured instants, which are brought into greater relief by contrast with the unfettered movement they grow out of. The dancers need both to be aware of what’s coming up and at the same time, he says “Don’t anticipate the next movement. Indulge what you’re doing.” Each sequence should be fluid, “liquid,” each new shape growing out of what came before, but somehow at the same time a surprising, fresh. “I’m still seeing position, position.’ Not going smoothly on through.”
•A combination of extreme discipline—“Don’t let that foot go too far around. It needs to stop by his leg, not behind you”—and a nurtured looseness or freedom of energy:
“Mark it to find the looseness,” he will say, and then a bit later, “So much better, looser now, with all this energy.”
•Individuality and the spirit of the piece. “Have fun. It’s playful, teasing each other. I know you’re still thinking about the steps, but try to start right away with getting that rhythm between each other.” From the beginning, Olivier encourages the dancers to infuse their own ways of being and relating to one another into the dance.
“Start thinking about the personality of the two of you dancing together.“
•Awareness of audience perception. Olivier often calls attention to how something will appear to those watching. “Show that. That’s interesting. Play with it.” And sometimes he talks about “illusion.” “Cheat a little here. Looks like you’re embracing her, but you’re lifting her with other hand.” Or “It will liquefy. See, when you—not cutting corners, but making them so they’re not really corners.”
•Using each other. “When you grab him, don’t be shy.” Olivier is fascinated by the complexities of untraditional partnering. “You put her down but you’re still dancing together. Try to feel that a lot.” The greater muscular bulk and upper body strength of the male dancers isn’t denied in his work. (There are many more lifts by men of women than vice versa.) But there is a far greater range of inter-movement than is common in the usual cross-gender duet. And that requires a working out of balance, support and mutual trust that is as dynamic as the finished product. “Find anchors on his body. Use him. It’s part of the choreography to manipulate each other.”
Next up: Fun at Out On A Whim #4