A few weeks ago I wrote about the premiere performances of Olivier Wevers's new dance company, Whim W'him, at On the Boards; I was unimpressed (and very much in the minority).
Sunday a new strain of commentary popped up on the subject: Spectrum choreographer Donald Byrd wondered on his blog about how Wevers's use of women in the piece changed if you knew (as some in the audience did; all you had to do to know was follow dance in Seattle) that the woman in question—who was humped, then stuffed in a trash can—was Wevers's ex-wife, and that the humper was Wevers's current husband. (Via Jeremy Barker.)
Byrd ultimately comes down on the side that this does not really feed into whether the dance was good or not, but he sure spends some time teasing it out before he does—referring to other choreographers, including Bill T. Jones, for whom biography has been an important factor (and for which he's been roundly criticized). And Byrd raises the important point that "the non-aesthetic" and the "aesthetic" continue to enjoy a terrifically uncomfortable relationship—much more uncomfortable, surely, than a dancer and the ex-husband choreographer whose company she willingly performs with.
I'm not a purist by any means. The aesthetic and the non-aesthetic are like crazy lovers: nobody else can do to them what they can do to each other.
But in this case I left the biography alone for a simple reason: For me Wevers's symbolism wasn't nuanced enough to analyze in the first place, let alone to follow its trail of crumbs into the murky zone of biography.
In other words, the lady being humped and the lady being trashed did not affect me either way because they were poetically DOA. Stuffing a lady in the trash in an affecting way would be a topic of conversation: Maybe it's misogynist, maybe not—depends entirely on the context.
That's a level of analysis it's unnecessary to do unless certain basics are met.
Here's what I did write about gender and Wevers's choreography, in case you want to take another look.
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.