Photo: Molly Magee/Bamberg Fine Art
Since founding the contemporary dance company Whim W’Him in 2009, Artistic Director Olivier Wevers has delighted audiences and critics alike with his mixture of humor, drama and inventive dance movement. Wevers, a former principal dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, founded Whim W’Him in 2009 as a showcase for his own choreography and that of other choreographers.
Since 2002, Wevers has created more than 20 dance works for Whim W’Him and Pacific Northwest Ballet, Spectrum Dance Theater and Royal Winnipeg Ballet, among other companies. He is a winner of the prestigious Princess Grace Fellowship and a Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award.
Alice Kaderlan: Are you still an “emerging choreographer"? If not, how would you characterize yourself in terms of where you are artistically?
Olivier Wevers: It’s an interesting question because I definitely feel a different kind of pressure, other people have different expectations and I have different expectations. Now, at the beginning of 2013, it’s been my first full year that I’ve been employed as a choreographer, so it’s the first time that I can say that I am living as a full time choreographer. I love it but the pressure and stress don’t get easier. It’s possible I may be more aware of the pressure because I’m not so naïve anymore about the way to do things. I’m more realistic about the reality of creating dances and the business of being a choreographer and of the limits I have to live with.
When you start out, you dream of the things you want to do and the production values you want that turn out to be unreachable. At the beginning, I always figured there was a way to do what I wanted and my ideas were on a completely different scale with different expectations.
But limitations are a good thing because you have to figure out how to overcome obstacles. Now, my brain has more practice in finding solutions and making my ideas work. I have a company, fundraise and work with the Board besides hiring dancers, crew and designers. Before, I thought “Oh, it will just happen,” but I’m much more aware now of how this [running a company] all works.
How about the pure craft of dance making? Where do you feel you are with respect to that?
I have finally accepted that I have a voice, a way that I research things and a way of making dances. There was a time when I had ideas but I didn’t’ know if they were really working. Now I now that I love certain things and can go further with them.
Is that the result of greater self-confidence?
I don’t know, because I feel like I’m more insecure than ever because of the pressure. Any little mistake I make now, people will notice and I’m not an emerging choreographer anymore. When you create a work, you keep seeing the same things over and over. I’ve learned that I have to remove myself and look at my work from the outside.
Looking back at my earlier work, I can now say, “No this isn’t right, I need to highlight that, or tone that down.” It’s really hard to look at your own work objectively, but if you don’t the work can get so personal that you don’t consider the audience. And I always want to communicate with the audience. What’s the point if the audience is watching something so personal to me that they can’t relate to it? I want to create something that moves people, touches people and I’m learning not to take myself so seriously so I can do that..
It seems to me that one of the most difficult things about dance making is knowing how long to make a piece, especially today when so many contemporary works seem to go on and on. How do you know when a dance is the right length?
I don’t know, except that I always want the audience to leave wanting to see more. Personally, I hate leaving the theater with the feeling that I could have skipped those extra 20 minutes, so that’s why I usually make shorter pieces.
What do you feel you still have to learn as a choreographer?
Everything. I’m learning all the time — when I create a piece, when I restage a work, when I see the audience react, when I see other people’s work, which is really important because it gives you perspective. And you can always make your work better, which is why whenever I restage a work there is always something that I change.
It could be anything, the spacing, the use of one particular production element. I love trying new things, switching patterns and seeing how that works. I love contrast because you have to keep the audience surprised and that means constantly changing things.
Why are you so interested in contrast?
As human beings, we live in contrast. We — or at least I — get emotional really quickly. I can get upset very fast and then it’s over, or I eat something sweet and then I want something salty. This happens in so much of life, so I love rapid transitions that break a particular mood. Maybe someday I’ll do a piece that doesn’t have contrast [laughs] and then that will be a contrast to my other work.
The hardest thing is to justify what I do — to the dancers, to the audience. I often don’t know. I’m just emotionally attached to making something particular happen and so I do it.
How would you describe your own aesthetic in dance? What do you aim to achieve with your works?
I love rounded movement and even ugly shapes, like turned in legs with sickle feet, which are so not ballet. I also love articulation of the feet. A foot should have a million ways of using the floor and move just like a hand.
I also like sex appeal and an animalistic quality in my dancers. I refuse to see dancers as instruments and want to find what works for them, the way they partner, the way they use the floor. I want them to be emotional and do their steps with intention, so I work with dancers who can find emotion within themselves.
I also love partnering. Give me two dancers and I’ll try anything with them. And I regard a male-female pas de deux as 50-50.
What do you mean?
The interaction between them should be equal, which is why I call my women “Ninja bitches.” I want them to be able to lift the men as well as have the men lift them and not just wait to be presented. The interactions between dancers are very important to me and I want the movement to be connected to that.
Your work is highly theatrical and always has a strong dramatic quality. Do you think that comes from growing up in Europe where there is such a focus on drama in dance?
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