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Whim Whim and the Seattle Baroque Orchestra: Pergolesi's Stabat Mater

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Last night and this afternoon, Four Whim W'him dancers joined forces with the Seattle Baroque Orchestra and two amazing singers, soprano Yulia van Doren and alto Krisztina Szabo, in a rare collaboration for dance in Seattle: two major stand-alone groups coming together for a joint performance, and this time, it was one of my favorite pieces, Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, with choreography by Olivier Wevers.  In college someone recommended a recording of it, and I've loved the piece ever since.  So with Kidd Pivot's "Revisor" still buzzing in my head, I zipped back home on the 9am bus for this afternoon's performance: a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

The performance took place at Shorecrest High School in the north part of Seattle, and they have a lovely venue.  I don't know whether the stage was dancer-friendly in terms of spring and what's underneath the surface, but it's a terrific place to be an audience member.  The orchestra of three first violins, three second violins, an one each of cello, bass, and harpsichord, played by SBO's Music Director, Alexander Weimann, played upstage right, with van Doren and Szabo singing right in front of them, except in one of the 12 sections in which Szabo sang from upstage center.   

Each dancer had a specific characters: Mia Monteabaro, in a beautiful white cocktail dress with a big flared skirt over many layers of tulle and very high white stiletto pumps, was Mary, Jim Kent, in a white t-shirt and long boxers was Jesus, and I interpreted Karl Watson, in a black shirt and slim pants and Liane Aung, in a black shirt, tights, and a long liturgical-style wide skirt, as Angels of Death, although Watson said in the talk-back, he thought his character was G-d and Aung's was the Holy Spirit.  But just from the costumes, I knew that what had been missing from Wevers recent pieces, which have had dark personal or international themes, was back, and in spades: wonderful humor woven into the fabric of the dances about the most serious subject to a good chunk of the world.  So when a bathtub was rolled out on stage, and Monteabaro stood in it, posing with a pump in each hand, waiting for Kent to be deposited in it after an extended dance, it made complete sense, and when Monteabaro cleansed him and the shoes with/in (fabric) white flower petals, it was delightful.

One of the things I love most about Wevers' choreography is how inventive, varied, and organic it is in getting dancers back up from the floor.  I also love the fluidity with which the groups form and re-form.  But there was another bonus: line choreography.  Horizontal, diagonal, and vertical!

The talk-back was really interesting, although one question was saddening, although I remember the discussion more than the exact question: it implied that this type of collaboration was something new.  Although the dancers and musicians did introductions at the beginning, I missed the name of the violinist who spoke -- I think it was Concert Master Linda Melsted, but I'm not certain -- but she said that she'd done collaborations with modern dancers, and this was nothing new.  Before than, Yulia van Doren said that she has sung with Mark Morris Dance Group -- they were in Seattle this past Thursday-Saturday -- and it was pretty well advertised.  It was brutal to be reminded that there are  two separate audiences -- there was an announced welcome to students from two schools -- in the room, and that the music audience is not necessarily interested in dance.  Seattle is still small enough that specializing is a luxury.  It also points out how little money there is in dance budgets for live music, aside from PNB.  I'm grateful that the donors thanked in the intro speech were willing to take a chance and helped to fund these performances in the early stage. Maybe some of each audience group will cross over, without having to have both elements, although more collaboration would be ideal.

Also from the talk back, Wevers and the dancers worked five weeks on the choreography; the orchestra and singers started rehearsals this past Tuesday.  SBO's Weimann said that the singers had already sung these roles and knew them very well.  (They'd sung together in other works, but performed Stabat Mater with other singers.)  They got together for the first time on Thursday.  

The energy between the performers and dancers was palpable.  Watson said that while dancing to a recording meant knowing exactly what was going to come next, paradoxically he felt more supported by live music, even though it wasn't as predictable.  (He thanked the musicians for being supportive about tempo.) There was a lot of attention between the musicians and dancers, especially between the singers and dancers.  

I knew that singers have to adjust to each other's volume, tempo, and pitch, but I didn't know until van Doren spoke about it that they have to adjust to each other's vibrato.  She said that when she's sung this piece before, it's been with countertenors, and that she had to adjust her voice to them in a way she didn't with Szabo.  From their bios they have a lot going on world wide, but I am certainly keeping my eye out for them.  

And there was a ballet connection: before Stabat Mater, SBO played a piece that was credited to Pergolesi and lifted by Stravinsky for Pulcinella.





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I forgot the most prevalent image throughout:  they eyes hidden with hands, either Kent's own or others, while walking to whatever comes next.  It was like a thread of Orpheus through the work.  Also in the talk back, Kent said that he was trying to vary his response to death, sometimes accepting, sometimes resisting.  Although this was subtle, he made that come across very clearly.

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