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Olivier Wevers Whim W'him

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I don't know if the mods think this is the appropriate place for a thread on Wever's upcoming show with his side project Whim/W'him -- if not, please relocate.

I went to an open rehearsal for the program last night (along with Helene, who had many interesting things to say about it) and was gobsmacked by the material -- very dense, detailed, musical and eccentrically beautiful. It's running at On the Boards January 15-17, and I highly recommend seeing it.

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PNB dancers in the program are Lucien Postlewaite, Jonathan Porretta, Chalnessa Eames, and Kaori Nakamura.

Because of the structure of the piece -- 4 movements choreographed, with three chosen by draw before each performance, as well a draw for which musical score will be used [see below] -- I won't comment on sections, since they may not be performed on a given night, but to generalize, there is stunning work for small ensemble and a great emphasis on arms and hands that in itself should be fascinating for dance lovers. And sophisticated humor.

Wow, wow, wow, did I say wow?

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I misunderstood the process.

From the Whim W'him website:

Before each show a random drawing...

Whichever of Vivaldi's original seasons is picked will be omitted from that show. In its place, music will be played for the corresponding season from the suite composed by Byron Au Yong. Neither dancers nor audience will know ahead of time which season is going to be replaced.

Which season ends the particular performance determines if it closes on a note of hope or gloom...

The dancing will be to Vivaldi, but one movement of the Vivaldi music will be replaced by Byron Au Yong's score.

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Sounds like Wevers is being purposefully whimsical (after all his new company's name is Whim W'him which I'm told sprouts from a sense of humor and whimsy). Obviously the word Whim is actually there, but also the contraction W'him which I believe is a spoof: meaning "with him" (him being Wevers). So the company is "being whimsical with Wevers" At least so I understand.

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There's a very interesting interview on the On the Boards website with Lane Cziplanski, Artistic Director of On the Boards, and Olivier Wevers, in which Wevers discusses his choreography, working in the studio, approach to pointe work, the production team, and the dancers.


For Oregon Ballet Theatre fans, OBT Lighting Designer Michael Mazzolo is the lighting designer for "3 Seasons".

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All performances are sold out, according to the Whim W'him Facebook page, but

Don't give up...there will be a wait list each day starting at noon on Friday, and 3PM on Saturday and Sunday! On the Boards box office 206.217.9888

I saw the dress rehearsal tonight, with the props, costumes, and lighting and all three pieces look great. What's really remarkable that except for a couple of water bottles in the blocking rehearsal I saw last week, the choreography for "3Seasons" was just as clear without the props as with them. (With them was richer, but there wasn't anything obviously missing without them.) "X stasis" looks just as fine close up in the space at On the Boards as it did on the McCaw Hall stage when it was danced in the Choreographer's workshop.

All four seasons of "3Seasons" are danced, three to the Vivaldi score and one to an original score by Byron Au Yong, played by an ensemble of cello, violin, drums, and very small (toddler?) piano. The dancers know only before the piece begins which movement they will dance to the Au Yong score, and it's not announced. Tonight, the third part was by Au Yong, and in the center of two sections that sounded a bit like social dance music was a section that resembled a George Crumb sound scape. The choreography fit the score really well, however different it was from the Vivaldi.

In "FRAGMENTS", which I had never seen before, there are two remarkable solos. In his preview for The Seattle Times, Michael Upchurch wrote,

What about Wevers' own dancing? Can we expect to see him onstage with Whim W'Him?

"Probably never," he laughs. His hands are full, he says, with choreographing, fundraising and administration.

Porretta thinks that's a shame: "He looks incredible doing his own choreography. It's very hard to duplicate.

The male solo, to Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus", quoted by Tchaikovsky and used as the opening movement of Balanchine's "Mozartiana", was beautifully danced tonight, but Wevers' demonstrating it must be extraordinary.

There is so much beautiful detail for arms and hands in "3Seasons" and lovely work for the ensemble. In all three works, Wevers explores many kinds of relationships with depth. The only way I can describe the experience of watching it is that it's like being in Finland, taking a cold shower, then a sauna, then a run through the snow and a jump into an ice bath, then getting raked and beaten on the back with birch branches, then soaking in a tub, and then having a massage. Each one is so different, but the key is getting them all in a row, as one experience.

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Michael Upchurch gave the opening a rave review in The Seattle Times. Seeing him write,

I would say do anything you can — cash in your life insurance, pawn your children, whatever it takes — to grab a ticket to "3Seasons," the first full-length evening of work by Olivier Wevers and his new dance company, Whim W'Him.

makes me sorry I censored myself from posting, "If you can't buy a ticket, mug someone for theirs."

He concludes:

One final note: It's a treat to see the PNB dancers in this company on such an intimate stage. And you really do see them. Wevers and his lighting designer Michael Mazzola aren't afraid of bright, almost bleached-out light in certain passages, and they work it to potent dramatic effect.

In her preview for Seattle Times, Sandra Kurtz wrote:

The choreographic style he's developed in the past few years is also virtuosic and quirky, a highly physical, musical, and detailed approach. Seeing him right now may be similar to what it was like to see Twyla Tharp or Jirí Kylián early in their careers.

There were times when I thought I could feel a touch of the spirit of Mark Morris in the room, not just for the humor, but for the way in which the dancers, when in groups, looked like a real, interdependent community, and the hand dance, the kind of beautifully focused section that spun itself into continuing revelation.

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I saw the last performance last night (Sunday). All I can say is WOW.

Everything was terrific, but I thought 3 Seasons was remarkable. Wevers used the music in absolutely amazing ways. The quality of the dancing by these highest possible calibre dancers was extraordinary. Their sense of ensemble could be cut with a knife. The standing ovation was instant and left NO ONE in their seat. In particular, I thought Wevers did a masterful job of understanding his dancers strengths and choreographing to those strengths. All dances are a reflection of the original cast to some extent, but in this production, I think this aspect is particularly evident.

When the final curtain set, all I could think of was......."we've just seen the birth of something important".

Oh, and BTW, the lighting was superb. I don't think I have ever seen such dramatic and appropriate lighting in such a small venue (400 seats?) before. Congrats to Michael Mazzola.

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Marcie Sillman, who has done many dance pieces for KUOW-FM in Seattle, reviewed Whim W'him for Artdish:

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer and choreographer Olivier Wevers’ new company Whim W’him made its debut Friday, January 15th, with a bill of three dances, including the world premier of 3Seasons. Wevers has been creating dance on a freelance basis for the past several years. The choreographer decided to form his own troupe in 2008, at the urging of some of his fellow PNB dancers. When OTB Artistic Director Lane Czaplinski gave Whim W’him a slot as part of the Northwest New Works series, it was a gamble of sorts. On The Boards’ audiences are accustomed to hard edged contemporary dance, not toe shoes and tutus. What they got this weekend was ballet for a new generation, and while the crowd reaction was mostly enthusiastic, not everyone liked, or understood, what they saw.
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Far more than criticisms of the choreography I'd say. My word for the "review" would be hog wash.

Anyone who listens to rumors (much less reading into the comments of 3rd parties as this critic does in this article) that somehow Lucien, Olivier, and Kaori have a spiteful, hateful relationship is out on Pluto somewhere. Besides, I can't imagine anyone who follows Olivier Wevers (or PNB for that matter), and claims to be knowledgable enough to be a critic, wouldn't know the personal relationships btwn these 3 over a 10 year period. Such a "critic" gets an F in my book for not paying attention. Both marriages and the split were well discussed even in public by the principles and other first hand observers (I know since I attended some of these events).

I think someone is allowing their personal prejudices to influence their "critical judgment" here.

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I pretty much ignored all the relationship "gossip" - but the mother earth getting bloody, dry humped, and thrown into a dumpster isn't really your mother's oldsmobile, now is it?

Is it art? Is it misogynistic? (sp?) I was out of town so couldn't attend, but if Donald Byrd is talking about it (he wasn't gossiping, just criticizing the dancer's dry humping), I think we can have a legitimate discussion of what is dance and what is just shock value.

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Is it art? Is it misogynistic? (sp?) I was out of town so couldn't attend, but if Donald Byrd is talking about it (he wasn't gossiping, just criticizing the dancer's dry humping), I think we can have a legitimate discussion of what is dance and what is just shock value.

I don't think that review is aptly characterized simply as "criticism of the choreography", because key to Byrd's criticism is the personal relationships between the two dancers and Wevers -- the so-called "gossip" -- and what that represents, not simply the choreography itself. Being caused to "gasp" in itself isn't a bad thing. Does his criticism stand if the dancers had been unrelated to Wevers, or if the work was performed by another company? I don't think Byrd has made that case.

The author, Jeremy M. Barker, writes:

At the time, insofar as I noted the casually misogynistic representations of femininity, I wrote them off as in keeping with the work's overall themes, and, of course, sexist representations are hardly unusual in the arts. But with a few weeks' reflection and discussion, I see the largely fawning critical response to Wevers' work as a dramatic failure to address the questions the work raises.

I agree with his first conclusion, and I while I found the original rape scene a gasper, the final image, of nature being thrown into a trash can, to be more arresting for its casualness. I don't see where earlier reviewers have apologized for this or swept it under the rug.

In the blog post referred to in the critique, Catherine Cabeen discusses the historic use of pointe shoes:

Pointe shoes are a very specific medium that say one thing well; women are to be light, frail and weightless. Even direct, sharp movement is made piercing and fairy-like by these apparatus that for more than 300 years have allowed/forced female ballet dancers to embody an “idealized” version of the female form. Ballerinas are to be slight and ephemeral next to the grounded power of the male dancer, who never wears pointe shoes, except in rare incidences of drag performance. Certainly classical ballet technique requires incredible strength and the women in Wevers company performed with commitment and aplomb. I am however a feminist scholar and can not help but to point out the unspoken assumptions that accompany ballet aesthetics which in part led to the creation of modern dance by women over 100 years ago. I find it fascinating that the gendered hierarchy that is inherent in ballet not only sells out houses and gets standing ovations, but is also so ingrained in our expectations of viewing ballet, that it is for many patrons, invisible.

I think she's right to bring up the underlying assumption when a woman is seen in pointe, whether it's in Robbins' "The Cage", the women in the "Melancholic" section of "The Four Temperaments" or "3Seasons".

In her review in The Stranger, Jen Graves takes on four issues:

1. That Wevers' attempts at humor fail

2. That there is a difference in creating dance for women and men, something that Wevers disputed

3. That Wevers is tone-deaf when creating for women

4. That his approach to dance is not something that is part of On the Boards' raison d'etre

She does not address misogyny in Wevers' piece.

Barker does not agree with Graves' criticism, which he says in the article, and concludes that Byrd's point is elusive. He then writes "But with a few weeks' reflection and discussion, I see the largely fawning critical response to Wevers' work as a dramatic failure to address the questions the work raises." I have no problem with critics changing their opinion after further consideration or after seeing a work a few extra times. However, he doesn't "address the questions the work raises" except to quote other people and then refute what they say, either.

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Whim W'him opened with its first full program in Seattle as the resident dance company of the Intiman Theater last night, with a reprise of "This is Not a Raincoat" and new works by Wevers ("Monster") and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's "Cylindrical Shadows".

This is just first impressions: I'll see the program again tomorrow night. "Raincoat" is a quirky, humorous piece that addresses the tight hold of convention and pack behavior. "Monster" uses one couple each to address homophobia, addiction, and abusive relationships. I particularly liked two motifs in the first pas de deux -- the nested shuffle and the hand face mask, but it wasn't as immediately powerful as the middle pas de deux about addiction, a unique and quite unexpected approach to the subject, and brilliantly danced by the gorgeous Kylie Lewallen and Ty Alexander Cheng from Spectrum Dance Theatre. The last pas de deux was filled with unusual, low lifts that I wish Ice Dance choreographers would adapt and steal, and while a more generally conventional approach to the subject than the middle section, was full of nuance and was personal and specific in detail, which created its power. Melody Herrera was in pointe shoes, but unlike in 3 Seasons, there wasn't much exploration of pointe work, and they didn't seem necessary.

Ochoa, on the other hand, used pointe quite effectively for her two women, Houston Ballet's Melody Herrera and PNB's Chalnessa Eames. This bodes well, since Boal has commissioned a work by Herrera for an upcoming PNB season. But here and now, Chalnessa Eames' role is a star turn for the dancer: with her clear, bold lines and technique and strong, clean movement through the torso, in the duet with Herrera and the Pas de Trois that followed in a work that bridged neoclassical and modern, this was classical dancing at its best.

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My reactions to the Friday opening night performance are amazingly similar to those of Helene. None of the 3 pieces stood out for me as a monumental creation, but I thoroughly enjoyed each of them.

"Raincoat" was fun and humorous, or "quirky" as Helene aptly describes it. This quirkiness is to be expected from Wevers since he is well known for his humor generally, and has even used the word "quirky" himself to describe his outlook. Altho this piece was my least favorite, I found Wever's use of the long, hooded raincoats very effective as a prop to demonstrate how we all hide much of ourselves from others, and conversely, the feeling of liberation when we are comfortable enough with another person to allow that shield to be dropped.

"Monsters" was my favorite, and like Helene, I found the middle section (on the monster of "Addiction") the most effective. I am a dyed in the wool ballet snob, but I do enjoy much of modern dance. The Spectrum dancers, Kylie Lewallen and Ty Alexander Cheng, opened my eyes to just how glorious dancers trained in modern can be. Of course given Donald Byrd's style of choreography, a Spectrum dancer must have good classical technique also. Perhaps it was the blended technique that made these 2 dancers so appealing to me. Lastly for this piece, I don't know what made the two motifs Helene mentions so arresting, but these same two motifs had the same impact on me as on Helene. Each was repeated in such a way as to make them easily noticeable, but beyond that each motif had a "humanitarian" impact on a visceral level given the subject of harsh negative judgment some in society impose on homosexuals: the hand in front of the face spoke to me of the undeserved shame many gay people no doubt feel (especially as they grow up), and the nested shuffle created a sense of how 2 gays can at least sometimes feel comfort and safety in the loving relationship they have with each other. I'd give Wevers an "A" in choreography just on the basis on these two motifs alone.

Ochoa's piece had many moments of beauty but overall I didn't get a sense of unity from it (a requirement for me personally to truly be moved by a piece). Perhaps it was Ochoa's eclectic choice of music that bothered me. I loved the baroque piano clearly played by Glenn Gould at the start, but how the piece could go from there to the more contemporary sound as it did was lost on me. It also bothered me that the title of the piece "Cylindrical Shadows" was spoken several times during part of the contemporary music section. In short, I greatly enjoyed much of the movement in Ochoa's piece, especially the tableaux-like presentations of multiple dancers in various configurations, but the piece as a whole fell flat for me.

One bit of potential controversy exists in Wevers' "Monster": before each of the 3 sections, a poem was read over the PA system evoking the concepts behind the theme of that section (e.g., "addiction"). I found these poems to be very effective. I take it from the program that these 3 bits of poetry were written by RA Scion. His words cut into me deeply and were powerfully read (I presume by the poet himself). I'm not normally a fan of the spoken word (or even the sung word) in ballet, but I thought it very appropriate in this piece.

Finally, allow me to echo Helene's praise for Chalnessa Eames. She is a spectacular dancer for works like these. Some might criticize her classical dancing, but almost no one I've seen can make less conventional dance based on classical technique come alive as well as Chalnessa does. I think of her as the nurse in Maillot's R&J, or in Tharp's "In the Upper Room", or in Robbins "The Concert" or more recently as the Spinner in "Coppelia", and I can't imagine anyone else bringing such superb classical technique together with dramatic flair, enthusiasm, jest for life, and most especially, humor.

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Tonight's performance was another sell-out: I think I saw all of five empty seats before the performance began. Congratulations to the Company! Francia Russell and Kent Stowell were in attendance a few rows in front of me. I think it took them ten of the 15-minute intermission to get out the door, so many people were trying to talk to them.

On second look at "This Is Not a Raincoat" -- I didn't see the premiere last year at Northwest Dance Project -- the themes of convention were even stronger. Although the un-raincoated dance sections were more upbeat in general, I still wasn't convinced that this wasn't also a convention, and that remaining covered was now the taboo. (My contrarian side thinks the decision to remain masked should be personal and valid.) Although they looked like more fun, the tension was in the sections in which each dancer was confined to his or her own stripe.

I didn't like the poetry in "Monsters" -- I managed to suppress it by the time I got home in total denial -- because when I can't understand the words, and the syllables run together, it reminds me why learning other languages has been so difficult and when I can understand the words, I don't like being told verbally what I'm watching: I want the movement and structure to tell me. That aside, it was even more powerful seen again. I still read the sections as Bad Relationship V.1, Addiction, Bad Relationship V.2, or perhaps Bad Relationship, Addiction, Bad Relationship as Addiction, which didn't lessen the works impact.

I was able to see so much more in "Cylindrical Shadows" on second viewing. For one, the structure of the groupings, was even more clear, and I was able to see how rich the pas de quatre or the men was. I was already impressed by Vincent Michael Lopez: he's the smallest of the men, but once he starts to move, he's huge. I noticed a lot more classicism throughout, and the final pas de deux for the soft, vulnerable Melody Herrera and Lucien Postlewaite was even more of a knockout. If Herrera isn't available when it's performed again, I'd love to see Chalnessa Eames and Kaori Nakamura dance the role: each would bring a different quality to it. I'm really looking forward to Ochoa's commission for PNB.

I loved the musical selections for "Cylindrical Shadows": each of the pieces had an elegiac feel, including the commissioned "Cylindrical Shadows" by David van Bowel. In fact, I thought the music for all three pieces was great.

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Although the un-raincoated dance sections were more upbeat in general, I still wasn't convinced that this wasn't also a convention, and that remaining covered was now the taboo

Very interesting observation. I hope I get a chance to see this piece again with your interpretation in mind. Of course, any good work of art lends itself to multiple interpretations, so both our interpretations are valid. I must admit that I was preconditioned a bit to my interpretation by Wevers' description of the piece in his program notes; specifically, where he says:

"For many, perhaps most, the raincoat becomes part of them. But bit by bit, one or two decide that what they really are is an open, unguarded self"

I'll be very interested to see how I might also see your interpretation next time I see it.

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Well it looks like his side project is going to become his main job -- Wevers just announced that he's leaving PNB April 17 (after Midsummer) to do WW fulltime. From the announcement

Dear Whimmers,

I have wonderful news to share with you about Whim W’Him, but first I want to tell you about a major transition in my life. As you may know, I have spent the last 22 years as a professional ballet dancer. I have had a dream career and have relished every opportunity to grow and learn as an artist. My time as a dancer has been inspiring, challenging, at times painful, but above all, filled with passion.

I’ve always known that this career has a very short time span, which is why I was so excited to discover a few years ago that there is something I am possibly even more passionate about than being a dancer—my choreography. These last few years I have grown and developed as a choreographer as well as becoming the Artist Director of my own company. With this promising new direction ahead, I am announcing that this coming month will be my last with PNB.

While this may come as a surprise to some, I feel blessed that I have Whim W’Him as this amazing vehicle for my creative voice, and am happy to retire from being a dancer with confidence, dignity and grace. Many of you have been supporters and fans of my dancing for years and I ask that you now support me as I move forward as choreographer and Artistic Director of Whim W’Him.


Since our performances in January we’ve finished our short film on “Monster”. Michael Ganyo worked with us closely and filmed the dancers on stage, between shows, to create a captivating distillation of the work. I am happy that I finally get to share this with you and hope that you will enjoy watching it in anticipation of it being performed again.

In that vein, I am happy to announce that the first movement of “Monster” will make its international debut April 22, 2011 at the 4th Copenhagen International Choreography Competition. “Monster” is one of ten pieces selected as a finalist; this is a great opportunity for Whim W’Him to be recognized internationally and for my work to be seen by the renowned panel of judges.


Lastly, mark your calendars for the evenings of June 24 & 25, 2011 at 8pm. Not only will you get to see Whim W’Him at Intiman for our second series of 2011 performances - ReSet - but you can also celebrate my 40th birthday with me on June 25. At ReSet, you can expect a world premiere from me, a reworked 3Seasons with new set pieces by the diabolically inventive artist, Casey Curran, and the return of “Monster” due to its breakout success.

Join us in the courtyard immediately after the show on the 25th to celebrate the season, the beginning of summer, and my birthday! Grab your tickets at Brownpapertickets and keep your ear to the ground for more information on the shows and post-show merriment.

Thank you for your continued support—I look forward to continuing this adventure with you,

— Olivier

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