“Nomads in crowded isolation.” That favored phrase of Olivier Wevers, Whim W’Him founder and artistic director, could well have been the title or subtitle of his Trail of Soles, the third and final work in the company’s current program, 3 x 3, (this weekend and next at the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center).
Refugees, fleeing war, famine, persecution, natural disaster, climate change, come face to face with barriers, fences, borders, walls. On the planet today, there are some 65 million refugees, the most since the end of World War II. On one hand, a need to flee, forces causing migration, an exodus from their homes of desperate people. On the other, a powerful instinct for self-protection on the part of those still settled in their native lands. The opposition between these basic urges has become perhaps the most divisive and distinguishing feature of our contentious times. And yet these are themes as ancient, universal and timeless as any in human experience.
It matters from whose point of view you observe the scene. Since it is chance, the luck of the draw, an accident of birth whether one lands on the inside or the outside of a safe place, in Trail of Soles, Olivier has chosen to observe from both sides of the fence. His dual view lends a particular poignancy to this work.
It begins with a single dancer running up and down a fence composed of shoes and boots. Is he after someone or being pursued? Soon he is joined by others, scurrying, clustering. In their hurry, they pile up, peering through the barrier, frantic to see… what?
All of a sudden, one of them crosses over, though it’s unclear if he has jumped or was pushed, whether he is a fugitive from the crowd or a scout for a better life. The others melt away but our eyes remain riveted on the lone remaining figure, as he dances out his grief and hope and fear.
A momentary touch of recognition, quickly whisked away.
Nomads in crowded isolation. Everyone thrown together. Individual humanity is obliterated by the sheer mass of numbers. Some will manage to get through and invent a new life. Some won’t make it.
Shunted from place to place, even as they metamorphose into mere objects of bureaucratic charity under the inadequate coverage of metallic blankets, they cannot fathom what will be their fate.
Yet out of bleak exile in an alien land, friendships can grow among strangers, and small acts of kindness or companionship blossom into the miracle of human love.
Photo credit: Stefano Altamura