Whim W’Him Seattle Contemporary Dance
“3 x 3”
Yin Yue, Zoe Schofield, Olivier Wevers, choreographers
January 18, 2019
Review by Sharon Cumberland
Whim W’Him Seattle Contemporary Dance is distinctive in its commitment to the commissioning and performance of new works in all of its programs. Founder-choreographer Olivier Wevers creates more opportunities for emerging and experienced dance-makers than any other company in Seattle—or probably in the in the nation. While many companies will present an evening of commissioned works in a season of revivals and classics, Whim W’Him presents only new works in all of its annual programs. This extraordinary commitment to the creativity of artists—both dancers and dance-makers—is like a fertile field with a varied and fascinating array of crops. The company is small—seven talented dancers who work together for an impressive thirty-five weeks a year, many of whom have worked with each other over the ten years of the company’s existence. Compared to companies that create works for larger forces, Whim W’Him’s size is ideal for the demands of a dozen or so new works per year.
The first program every season is the Choreographic Shindig, which invites as many as eight emerging choreographers—chosen by the dancers themselves—to create new works. The second program is generally given over to more established choreographers as Whim W’Him’s reputation and resources increase with each passing year. The third event is generally a full length work by Olivier Wevers, involving other artists, such as the Skyros Quartet and The Esoterics choral group in his wonderful setting of the poems of Cavafy in last year’s “Approaching Ecstasy,” or in the upcoming “Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater” in conjunction with Early Music Seattle. The current “3 x 3” showcases two very celebrated choreographers—Yin Yue from China and NYC, and Seattle’s own Zoe Scofield—as well as Olivier Wevers, whose choreographic duties this year, including “Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater” and the full-length “The Little Prince” this coming June, seems to mark a new level of creative output. Here are the “3 x 3” dances in the order they were performed:
“The Most Elusive Hold” (New Creation)
Choreography: Yin Yue
I’ve never seen a work by Yin Yue before, but I’ll be on the lookout for her in the future after seeing this terrific dance. The work is clean, geometric, exciting, and complex. Five dancers in street clothes move to a variety of pulsing sounds by Emptyset, Shifted, Machinefabriek and others, creating an endless kaleidoscope of movement while somehow preserving the individual containment of each dancer. I was reminded of DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man—that double image of a nude with arms outstretched within a square embedded in a circle—showing the perfection of human proportions while forever encasing the individual in a perfect sphere. No matter how much the dancers combined and re-combined themselves, or flung out their arms, legs, toes, it was as if they were moving within individual spheres as a kind of hyper-individualism. I must say that this was my favorite dance of the evening—I could have watched it repeatedly and never unpacked the intricacy of its combinations, or tired of watching the dancers describe their Vetruvian circles of light.
“This mountain” (New Creation)
Choreography: Zoe Scofield
I last saw Zoe Scofield’s work as part of zoe | juniper’s “Clear and Sweet” at On the Boards in 2016, a memorable work inspired by Sacred Harp singing—that strange tradition of Christian hymnody in which singers “shout” the hymns to fasola tunes. It was an unforgettable event, uniting dance and mystery with this weird old American hymn tradition. Scofield revisits the tradition in “This mountain” (“mountain” is not capitalized) by mixing the hymns with snatches of Bach’s Goldberg Variations as seven dancers emerge from behind a black partition as if dazzled by some entity situated behind the audience. They are dressed in what could be described as “praise costumes”—white garments that conjure up a choir or a group baptism. The dancers approach the mystery, tumbling the front row backwards in an endless regression before breaking into various configurations that range from folk movement to the dance equivalent of speaking in tongues. One of the most striking images was a rectangle of bright light that lay like a carpet on the stage, beckoning each dancer to enter the light as the others stood back and watched in fascination. The tension between the dark scrims and the carpet of light created a universe of exploration without a sense of threat. I love Scofield’s willingness to probe the mysteries of faith without apology—especially in an historical moment when the dire effects of immoral power are threatening our country and the world.
“Trail of Soles” (New Creation)
Choreography: Olivier Wevers
Continuing in that moral vein is Wevers’ new work in which the dance space is defined by empty shoes arranged in various patterns. In his program notes Wevers references the “65 million refugees worldwide” who “have been forcibly compelled to leave their home to escape famine, climate change, war, and persecution.” The seven dancers whose anguished, intense movements convey these losses move the shoes into new paths and shapes as the dilemma of homelessness unfolds. Shoes are the perfect, simple metaphor for both home (the shoes parked under the bed, the shoes in the closet, the shoes waiting by the door) and for the unanchored wandering of the desperate refugee (the sore feet, the worn-out soles, the endless journey, the suffering souls). Wevers’ choreographic gift is narrative in character: he is a dance-maker who uses familiar objects to tell stories, whether through images of devils, silent film stars, umbrellas and bowler hats, or shoes. Like a good poet, he calls upon our associations with concrete items to supply hints about the meaning of dance structures that might otherwise remain abstract. I love abstraction in dance, such as Yin Yue’s offering of pure movement onto which I can formulate my own ideas about containment and proportion. But I also love the more literal revelations into the artists’ minds, especially when they address the major concerns of the audience and times. Wevers’ powerful moral voice empowers choreography to grapple with the war between injustice and hope. As he pointed out in a post-performance discussion, the selection of choreographers for a program such as this one is governed not only by talent—and he can have his pick, since what choreographer would turn down an opportunity to make a new dance with such marvelous resources?—but also by a certain sensibility. He didn’t define that sensibility, but I think that I can: it’s an aura of realistic optimism, in which hope for humanity trumps injustice.
There’s still time to see Whim W’Him’s “3 x 3” at Cornish Playhouse through January 26, 2019.