I spent Sunday night at On the Boards as part of the soldout crowd watching the debut of your new company, Whim W'him (say "whim whim"). The crowd went crazy. Ovation. Reviews, too. The Financial Times in the UK praised the thing, for the love of god. Michael Upchurch in the Seattle Times told people to "cash in your life insurance, pawn your children, [do] whatever it takes" to get a ticket.
If people pawned their children for this performance, well, that was rash. But at least perhaps now those children might be raised by parents with higher standards for art.
Here's the thing: It was fine. Some of the dancers (from PNB and Spectrum) are terrific, and they can and did make magical moments occur.
But what is the purpose of this company?
The movement was rarely surprising for anyone who has watched either ballet (pointe shoes were worn throughout) or modern or contemporary dance. The symbolism—stuffing a woman's bra with plastic bags does not constitute an incisive critique of consumerism and the beauty industry, regardless of how much tension you think you can generate by setting the act in the context of classical ballet—was heavy handed in the extreme. The humor was not funny unless you are the sort of person who does not know from funny. (There are many of these people, I realize, and they are always laughing in a rom-com, and they laughed here, too, but true funny still must be defended, like any other aspect of aesthetic life.)
After the performance, I was part of a KUOW conversation about it next door at the Sitting Room that included Wevers. Bizarrely, when I asked him how one of the dances was different when it was set on a man and a woman rather than, as in a previous incarnation, on two women, he told me the gender didn't make any difference. When I expressed disbelief (haven't we established that colorblindness/genderblindness are nothing more than forms of intellectual and imaginative disability?), he informed me that his definition of gender must simply be more fluid than mine. Hmm. I will take that challenge, Mr. Wevers, and we should discuss it further. I shall wear pants. But in the meantime, this exchange raised yet another unflattering aspect to the performance: The female dancers had plenty to do, but the character of what they did felt limited, under-explored, off. Wevers felt a little like a novelist who can't quite write women, or who isn't that interested in trying. The flip side of this is that Wevers's choreographic focus on men (as well as, recently, PNB's) is marvelous, and especially so given ballet's history of focusing on the ladies. In dance, as in the world, we've only just begun to figure out what men and women can really do, rather than what we thought they were capable of. I want more of that. A partly improvised male solo in the middle of the evening's Mozartean selection (this piece to a segment of the Requiem) was stunning.
I'm being difficult, but why shouldn't I be? Wevers gets no pass for being local. And On the Boards has to take some heat for this as well. The notion that pointe shoes in a contemporary house are inherently radical is silliness. On the Boards is supposed to be a house of culture, a minority venue—specifically a place where you go not to be introduced to something gingerly, but a place that cultivates insiders. When I say insiders (hang on, don't get all huffy about "elitism") I mean simply people who care about the development of an art form, not just who want to have a nice night out (for whom majority venues exist—and, after all, these are the majority). And Wevers provided a nice night out.
I'm glad Wevers has a company. More locally generated dance: love it. But I'm waiting for the articulation of what he really wants to be up to—warming people up to ballet and contemporary via tepid fusion of the two is not a mission I can thrill to, or that belongs at On the Boards. Maybe what he'll do next will be.