At the age of three, he saw a performance of The Nutcracker, “almost by accident” his mother says. He sat on the edge of his seat throughout and at the end told her, “That is what I want to do.” And unlike so many of our early fantasies, his never went away.

After seven years at Whim W’Him, Karl Watson is hanging up his dancing shoes (socks, that is). But he’s not leaving dance—or WW. In the rehearsal hall and onstage, he has always filled the role of rock, mainstay, anchor to the other dancers. He will now play on a similar but newly configured part behind the scenes at the hub of the company, joining Artistic Director Olivier Wevers and Executive Manager Melody O’Neill in the administration of the new Whim W’Him Contemporary Dance Center on Queen Anne Hill.

In the first intermission of Karl’s final Seattle performance with Whim on the night of May 20, 2023, he garnered a touching tribute to his grace of body and spirit, mind and being from Olivier. The show ended in a long and rousing standing ovation. Afterwards at the post-performance Q&A, someone asked the dancers to say what they would miss most about Karl. They pelted him with accolades of every sort:

His superb partnering.

His talent for communion with another dancer in a simple glance.

His phenomenal memory for steps, other people’s as well as his own—Jane Cracovaner said she wished she could buy shares in the KarlCloud. That’s where he has regularly stored all the movements that are put out there in rehearsals. Olivier admitted to often relying on Karl to recall details of Olivier’s own choreography.

His continually kind and calming presence. His good humor and his sense of humor, as in the running jokes—running sometimes for years—that he and fellow mid-Westerner Michael Arellano share. His grace under pressure.

I would also add Karl’s ability to listen and really hear others and his verbal lucidity, as he managed, despite being moved to tears, to eloquently return the compliments that night. In a few well-chosen words, Karl detailed the unique qualities of the other WW dancers, as well as Olivier and guest choreographer (and long-time colleague) Emilie Lériche who was also present. He shared particular memories and astute observations about each of them—in themselves and as artists, co-workers and close friends.

Karl has no known vices. It’s hard to pin down any flaws. At most a few mild peccadillos, like needing to heat up just so the lunch he’s brought from home. And yet the last thing one could accuse Karl of is superficiality or shallowness of temperament. Several people mentioned how he always goes further, digging deeper into a character or emotion, a movement or style.

Over the last seven years Karl has variously caught the nuances of an astonishing array of personalities and moods.

In the inspired silliness of Brendan Duggan’s Stephanie Knows Some Great People, Karl casually concocted a ‘signature cocktail’ on stage (a vile-looking concoction that contained, among other thing, gummy bears and even, one night, long green gummy worms), while he and Jane played off each other, improvising fatuous dialogue as a young couple infatuated with their own trendiness.

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, a very different duet, with Liane Aung in Olivier’s choreography (set to Osvaldo Golijov’s Lullaby and Doina for a Music of Remembrance program), depicted the doomed young wartime love of a Jewish woman and a Roma man.

And by his characterization of the demanding, unforgiving father of Olivier’s Cannibalistic Sanctuaries, he plumbed the depths of anger, harsh judgment and paternal disappointment. That someone else writing about Karl might easily come up with a totally different set of his roles and ensemble moments to feature illustrates what richness there is to choose from.

One more characteristic of this modest paragon is his organizational ability. During the pandemic Karl was instrumental in helping the company negotiate the artistic and practical challenges of Whim W’Him’s switch to filmed performance, as well as in initiating dance classes and other educational and informational events online. All along he has been a trusted ally in Olivier’s work.

In his new role Karl will continue to lead company class occasionally and to manage rehearsal scheduling as he has for the past several year. This June he taught two weeks of thirty students daily at the Whim W’Him Summer Intensive, and he will spearhead creation of a year-round dance school on Whim W’Him’s new premises. As time goes on, he will take on other exciting tasks and programs, still to be discovered and invented.