Dance company Whim W’him recently premiered three new dances at the Cornish Playhouse during a three-night performance series titled Instantly Bound. Company founder Olivier Wevers is taking new steps to formalize Whim W’him’s structure, using contracted dancers but maintaining its blend of influences from both ballet and contemporary dance. As with most Whim W’him performances, there was a lot of collaboration with other artists and a new piece from an international choreographer, this time Spain-based Juanjo Arques. This was Arques’ first time showing work in the states.
The three dances presented over the course of the night were diverse, but there was a cohesion and a strategy to the sequencing, moving from the darkest, dourest material to a moment of levity. Wevers often balances his performances with light and dark, often with a bit of social commentary. At times he makes the content explicitly political, as with “Cast the First Stone” in 2012. The title piece of the night takes on a volatile and controversial subject in the states—gun violence.
Wevers was wise to begin on this note, as the piece is brooding, fragmented, abrupt and feels—like the fallout of sudden death—inconclusive. Rather than telling the audience, “Guns are bad,” Wevers is providing slivers of broken lives, a heap of panic and mourning, violence and hatred convincingly portrayed by the ensemble. The pulsing movement is well complemented by the music, which was composed and produced as a collaboration between Klimek, Ezekiel Honig and Johann Johannsson. Wevers tends to choose his collaborators well, and the sound design was one of the pieces strongest points, moving the audience into a dark, haunted hypnotic state as they observed the ghosts on the stage.
The second piece “Crossroads,” choreographed by Juanjo Arques is as sultry and sensual as “Instantly Bound” was sad and brooding. Eight dancers swoon and slink in a light, mystic milieu where love is most certainly in the air. It is light, but not frivolous; “Crossroads” looks at the before-and-after of romance and relationships, whereas “Bound” looked at the aftermath of loss and violence. Again, the music was a strong player. The composition by Aaron Martin works seamlessly into Arques’ choreography to reveal character and dynamics, from shrill to dulcet as the arc of each relationship unfolds.
The final piece, “Les Sylphides” was a rapturous end. It completely banished the sorrows of the first act and turned the table—literally—on the sweet and sincere expressions of relations in the second act with a frenzied lampoon of the ballet by the same name. Wevers’ saucy sense of humor is on full display as seven guests have a dinner party full of intrigue and folly. The dancers manipulate each other and the large table in a whirling, sometimes slapstick (in a good way) performance that bears little resemblance to the original ballet. That piece had no plot of its own, but was a simple (somewhat saccharine) romantic fantasia. Wevers makes something genuinely sweet and funny.
The costuming was well-designed for “Sylphides.” Everyone in blue, with sleek, sequined dresses on the women and dapper, trim silhouettes on the men, the design as pleasing to the eye, recognizable and contemporary, and allowed the figures to blur and blend delightfully in the confusion of movement. They also weren’t distracting in the more theatrical moments, when the dancers showed they have acting chops, at least in pantomime.
The dancers and Wevers showed their range in the three performances, from the dour patchwork in the first, to the frenetic flurry in the last. The sequencing, again, was important for the night to be effective, and Wevers chose well. The first piece was ultimately an act of meditation and reflection, not really of protest, which is helpful in debates that are so partisan; it allows for empathy to precede action, which is the contrary of what allows for such sudden violence to occur in the first place. But Wevers is still most effective when he allows his humor to guide him, and the shattered mirror of “Bound” is not nearly as lucid as the mirror he holds up in “Sylphides.” His poorly behaved dinner guests and their foiled attempts to control themselves and others are definitely our neighbors if not ourselves at times. Whether one is merely indulged by these performances or challenged to do better is up to the individual.
One may look forward to a new trio of works from Whim W’him in May. Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Andrew Bartee and Wevers will each premier a new piece at the intimate Erickson Theatre for an 8-evening run of performances. It is hard to say what the content will be, but at the very least one can expect strong performances from the dancers—and probably a mix of lighter and darker fare, ballet and contemporary dance that Wevers and company seem to be refining all the time.