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Whim W'him means new, gritty dance
On this morning, Olivier Wevers is playing the role of costume manager, digging into a plastic bag and pulling out a pair of casual tank tops to give to his dancers.
"We’ll make yellow shorts and I'll have yellow socks too,"Wevers explains.
We’re in the Pacific Northwest Ballet studios at Seattle Center where Wevers is usually the one dancing. He’s a principal with the ballet company, where he’s worked for the past 13 years.
He’s also been building his own company, and no offense to his current employer, he’s hoping to turn the popular notion of "What is Ballet?" on its head.
"Most people come to the ballet and they’re like, 'I don’t get it. Its tutus and this and that.' And it’s so detached and so far from the real world that we live in now. So I’m trying to find a way to connect," Wevers says.
Making that connection has sometimes involved creating playful dance.
Dancer Lucien Postlewaite:
"Olivier’s choreography generally has like a wink. And there’s a bit of humor to it."
That whimsy explains the name of Wevers’ company. It’s called Whim W’him.
But there’s nothing sweet about the piece he’s rehearsing now. A man and woman are on the ground, pushing and pulling each other. At one point she’s got her knuckles in his eye sockets. The dance doesn’t end well.
"This piece is about monsters. I wanted to explore the darker sides. So it’s three monsters that I have experienced in one way or another," Wevers says.
The three “monsters” he’s exploring in this piece are addiction, an abusive relationship and homophobia.
"Those three were just kind of striking a chord and I somehow connected them in my head because they’re quite different but I think relevant in the times we live in now."
Take homophobia and bullying. Wevers, who is gay, was called names as a kid growing up in Belgium.
"I was very feminine. I was always shorter and I was always teased for doing ballet. I was that gay kid that didn’t fit in," he says.
The name calling escalated into a physical assault when he was 14 and was headed home on the subway.
"There was three other teenagers that just came and surrounded me and started pushing me around. I never took the subway ever after that and I still have a fear of taking any public transportation."
In the duet that’s about homophobia, two male dancers point their fingers at the audience in a gesture signifying bullying. The dancers also hold their hands over their faces.
"You know, it’s not literal," the choreographer explains. "It could represent a mask; It could represent just hiding from someone or society."
But the couple, in gray t-shirts and red shorts and socks, also dance tenderly, embracing and lifting one another.
It’s another way Wevers wants to push beyond the traditional norms of dance.
"I wanted to also start having male dancers showing some affection for each other, Slowly getting to people being more comfortable with that. And I was worried, I was like, 'What if people are uncomfortable with two men hugging and dancing together?' So I’ve been trying to inch closer to that comfort level."
Just hours before Wevers premiered this duet last October,some teens shouted names at his two male dancers while they were shopping on Capitol Hill. Wevers said the name calling, while shocking, also gave his dancers more energy on stage that night.
There are 10 dancers in Wevers’ company and what they applaud in his latest creations, in spite of their dark themes, is his willingness to take risks and be honest.
Melody Herrera dances the monster that is the abusive relationship.
"You can’t truly relate to something that’s not genuine, you know what I mean? I feel like Olivier is true to his own, like what’s inside of him. Whether it makes people pleased or not to see it. and that is also something very admirable. and something that art needs," she says.
Looking back, Wevers says he’s spent his life preparing to build and lead his own company.
"You know, I’ve danced professionally for 20 years and I’ve almost come to realize that maybe that was just my education to become a choreographer or a director."
He’ll keep dancing with PNB but his goal is to make Whim Whim his full-time career.
At only two-years old, Wevers’ company has earned a number of fans, including the attention and support of Seattle’s Intiman Theatre, which has given it a performance venue for the next five years.
And Whim W'him just returned from performing in New York City, which builds public attention, critical buzz and brings Wevers one step closer to his dream.
Whim W'him performs "Shadows, Raincoats & Monsters" Jan. 14-16, 2011 at Seattle's Intiman Theatre. Tickets can be ordered through Brown Paper Tickets.