Sunday night, as the fifth of Whim W’Him’s eight #unprotected shows was about to start, I was thinking over the progression, endlessly thrilling, from a myriad of disparate, practical backstage fragments to exciting and coherent performance before an audience. In the days running up to last week’s opening night, light designer Michael Mazzola, stage manager Jill Carnine, and other crew members worked long hours, correcting and refining the complicated lighting plots for the program’s three premieres. Michael’s voice was calm, he kept his good humor; he doesn’t believe in wasting energy getting upset when patient attention to detail will iron out the difficulties. Working with Whim W’Him, he finds a high level of trust and understanding.
On the day before the opening, there was some concern that the fluffy white pillow/clouds, sewn by Linny Andrew for artistic director Olivier Wevers’s Above the Cloud, would get too grimy to use after so much time on the floor in the studio and in the theater, while the pale costumes for Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s piece Les Biches easily picked up streaks of dirt. A little later one of the crew moved slowly back and forth across the stage and in the far corners with a push broom. In the restrooms, somebody cleaned and stocked new supplies. Drinks were loaded in for the concession bar. Costumes were adjusted, and the three choreographers tweaked the nuances of dancers’ movements. One by one, production manager Dave Scamporlina carefully maneuvered the seven tall LED lights for Olivier’s piece backstage on a hand-truck, ready to be deployed for the final piece on the program. Anticipation was palpable in the air.
On Thursday, opening night, all was transformed. The earlier nervous exhilaration gave rise to performances of rare spirit, in all three works. The dancers were buoyed by the interchange of energy in the ensemble. Mia Monteabaro remarked at one of the Q&A sessions after the show that the moments when they are all close together, moving as one, “like an amoeba,” are her favorite part of the program.
Having missed the final rehearsals of Les Biches, I was amazed, and greatly amused, to see the piece reconfigured—by a switch in the last movement out of otherworldly electronic music and into the human scale of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky—from a choreographer’s precise, almost anthropological observation of alien creatures into a witty commentary on classical tropes of the eternal feminine.
In Andrew Bartee’s somber and reflective work, Lara Seefeldt, often cast in comic parts, danced the central role with dignity and calm.
The piece, says Andrew, turned out to be quite different from what he expected when he started working on it, becoming what Annabelle called “a meditation,” formed of blackouts, stark rows of dancers in hoodies and mostly slow, un-dancey movement. Once again, an electronic soundscape morphed into the familiar, this time Beethoven‘s Moonlight Sonata, evoking a closing mood of lonely melancholy.
Olivier’s Above the Cloud begins in suspense, as Lara climbs, balancing precariously, up a staircase of white-clad bodies only to fall backward into a big pile of pillow to the dramatic opening chords of the Francis Poulenc Organ Concerto.
To my mind, this piece, more than any other of Olivier’s choreography, inhabits and embodies the music. Since he was a young child, Olivier has thought in images. In this signature combination of complex ideas, fluid duets, and eruptions of whimsy, pillows turn into clouds, nests, objects of strife and sources of comfort, at once literal and metaphorical. Groups form and reform, whirling and dissolving. Nothing is fixed, everything flows away, and yet in the end a kind of peace is reached.
Kyle and Tory are learning and growing from their burgeoning dance partnership, while all seven dancers, those named above plus Geneva Jenkins,Jim Kent, and Thomas Phelan, feel inspired and stretched further by each successive performance.
There are still three shows to go, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, May 21-23.
Come and see for yourself: Whim W’Him: #unprotected – Brown Paper Tickets.
Photo credit: Bamberg Fine Art Photography