Whim W'Him choreography: a new twist for veteran ballet dancers

In the group's newest production, "reSet," classically trained dancers dart around and contort their bodies in abstract movement, with hip, fast music setting the pace.

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Andrew Bartee and Vincent Lopez in Whim W'Him's 'Monster'

In the group's newest production, "reSet," classically trained dancers dart around and contort their bodies in abstract movement, with hip, fast music setting the pace.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect new ticket-price information provided by the group.

You won’t find the terms “dolphin,” “flying squirrel,” or “vampire lift” in any dance textbook, but those are a few that Olivier Wevers and his dancers have come up with to describe steps in Wevers’ new work, “It’s Not About the Money.”

“I try not to use ballet terms,” Wevers explains, “because that would push the dancers into approaching the steps as ballet movements and this is a very different style. Also, part of the fun [of creating new choreography] is naming the steps.”

At a rehearsal for Whim W’Him’s next production, Wevers fine-tunes some of these challenging new steps, urging Kaori Nakamura to turn a little faster here, Lucien Postlewaite to reach out a hand a little slower there, and Andrew Bartee to exaggerate an upper body ripple just a little more. As Nakamura, Postlewaite, and Bartee try to figure out what Wevers wants and how they can achieve it, it’s obvious they trust him, even if he sometimes pushes these highly-trained ballet dancers into unknown territory. Whether working in socks rather than ballet slippers or pointe shoes, or pushing their bodies into a series of difficult contortions, Whim W’Him’s dancers throw themselves completely into the mood and the movement that Wevers creates.

Wevers knows his choreography places great technical demands on his dancers, most of whom come from strict ballet backgrounds, and “It’s Not About the Money” is no exception. The music, by the hip New York group Billband, is uptempo, and Wevers’ movements require rapid changes in direction. The three dancers dart every which way, and when a break comes they take full advantage to catch their breath from this energetic, abstract work. “I didn’t want any social commentary in this piece,” Wevers explains. “It’s just about dance and movement and atmosphere. Hopefully there’s also a sense of mystery so people can imagine for themselves what’s going on among the three dancers.”

If “It’s Not About the Money” is pure dance, the two other works on the program have definite subjects. “Monster” was performed at Whim W’Him’s last performances in January and is back by audience demand. The three-part ballet got rave reviews at that premiere, and a section dealing with homosexuality has become a staple of Whim W’Him’s appearances, including most recently at PNB’s Encore performance for retiring dancers. Houston Ballet principal Melody Herrera returns in her pas de deux with Postlewaite,  along with the other original “Monsters” performers Bartee, Vincent Lopez, Ty Cheng and Kylie Lewallen.

Rounding out the program is Wevers’ reworking of “3Seasons,” which blends Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with music by local composer Byron Au Yong. In the original 2010 production, at each performance a different Vivaldi movement was randomly left out and replaced by Au Yong’s music. Now, only the Autumn section is replaced, this time with new music by Au Yong that blends more smoothly with Vivaldi but still adds unexpected sounds that speak to how unpredictable our seasons have become.

With Whim W’Him’s growing financial success, Wevers has been able to add more elaborate production elements. He has hired costume designer Mark Zappone (who works with PNB, San Francisco Ballet, and Oregon Ballet Theatre, among others) for “It’s Not About the Money” and set designer Casey Curran for “3Seasons.” Wevers says Zappone’s designs are more “costumy” than Whim W’Him generally uses, and Curran’s set of recycled cardboard panels will provide a richer theatrical experience for viewers. 

An extra treat at Whim W’Him’s upcoming show is the appearance of the elegant Chalnessa Eames, who has just left PNB. Also new to the troupe is freelancer Jim Kent, who’s danced locally with Scott/Powell Performance, Mark Haim and Wade Madsen.  

If you go: "reSet," “It’s Not About the Money,” "Monster," and "3Seasons" by Whim W’Him, 8 p.m. June 24-25 at Intiman Theatre, 201 Mercer St., Seattle, 206-269-1900. Tickets cost $15-$25 in advance ($30 day of show). They are available at the box office the night of performance or in advance online.


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