To give Whim W’Him followers a chance to see more of the beautiful photos taken at full dress rehearsal by the company’s photographers, I usually devote a blog post almost entirely to images. This time, with the debut of photographer, Stefano Altamura, I’ll be posting 3 separate galleries, each one dedicated to one of the 3 Choreographic Shindig IV pieces that made up the show recently concluded (September 8-17 at Erickson Theater): first, in this post, Welcome to Barrio Ataxia by Omar Román de Jesús, next Stephanie Knows Some Great People by Brendan Duggan, and Before After by Alice Klock after that.
Audience members and blog readers will recall Whim W’Him’s unique program in which once a year the dancers choose the choreographers. This time there were close to 200 who applied.
The dancers picked these particular 3 choreographers because they liked their videos and proposal. They believed they would make works that produced an interesting evening, not all in the same genre or tone. They also knew something about them from others who were familiar with their work. And they thought these would be good dance-makers to interact with, artists from whom would learn a lot.
Sometimes, when Omar enters the studio for the first time with a group of dancers, he has a clear idea in his head of what he wants, other times less so. Before he came to Seattle, he had been thinking of making a piece about bi-polar disorder, or manic depression as it used to be called.
He wanted to explore it both the manic, overwrought, excited and the heavy, burdenesome depressive states. He also wanted to have audiences experience his piece from within the jumbled and exhausting struggle of the sufferer and to see it from outside, from the point of view of society.
But Omar is always concerned about universality and reaching out to everyone, so over time it evolved to be a piece about mental illness in general. The program notes read:
Ataxia: the loss of muscle control and balance.
From inside the constant change and mood swings of a teeming and disordered mind, we zoom outside to take a look at a human problem, the help of friends and our need for understanding.
The result is, in the words of a CityArts review: “A work as full of exuberance as the accompanying Latin music; dancers hit punctuated shapes, turn on a dime, jump and shimmy in the air. Layered in with the fun are quick moments of incongruity—a blank stare or violent gesture that betray a darkness below the surface.”
Chris Heide of Chosen Magazine, writes that Welcome To Barrio Ataxia “is a frantic, somber and emotionally evocative deposition of the constant changes and struggles that are hallmarks of mental illness. The piece beautifully transitions from high energy group choreography into chillingly beautiful partner work…. The piece proves that Whim W’Him is at its best when tackling dark and socially relevant topics.”
The Stranger reported that Omar’s “recent work looks super-fluid and powered by inertia,” in the physics sense that bodies in motion tend to stay in motion, while bodies at rest tend to stay at rest. “The dancers look like gyroscopes spinning in space, occasionally bouncing off one another.”
And audience members commented on the long, semi-improvised solo of Cameron Birts, where he first dances with the rest of the dancers, then faces away from the audience at the end of the piece, he was “mesmerizing, an ethereal spirit”; it was “the last hurrah before the lights go out.” Cameron himself finds it “very moving and special, enjoying myself and enjoying the music. At the last moment, using up all my energy, I just want to dance.”