Despite how minimal the arrangements are, the three pieces that premier this run show enormous range in vision. Belgium-based Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Andrew Bartee (a Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer soon relocating to Vancouver) contributed the first two pieces of the night. Ochoa’s piece was not just a highlight of the night; it is my favorite performance thus far in 2014.
Her piece Les Biches hit me personally in all the right places: Aesthetically, musically, conceptually it could not have been more tailor-made for my tastes, but even when I step out of that gleeful state of appreciation I see a work that is of lasting quality, extremely unique and easily appreciated by a broad audience. The four dancers, Geneva Jenkins, Mia Monteabaro, Tory Peil and Lara Seefeldt were transformed into something reptilian and insect and human all at once by Ochoa’s costume concept: a full-body beige and ivory blend of makeup and textured leotards by Mark Zappone, hair covered by more beige, and hands tipped by arterial red plastic talons.
The talons were such a fantastic invention, extending movements without hindering them and adding a sinister chittering and clicking at moments when the dancers twisted and flipped their hands in synch. The music was eclectic but perfectly chosen, beginning with the two opening tracks of producer Richard D James’ album Selected Ambient Works Vol II. The tracks, Cliffs and Radiator, are at once soothing and strange, combining warped plucking, chromatic percussion and unidentifiable snippets of speech in a lilting pulse that complemented the alien yet familiar terrain that Ochoa explored.
“Les Biches” choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Photo by Bamberg Fine Art.
The four female creatures made territorial displays, pawing and clawing at each other, flipping alpha, beta and omega roles but also coming together for synchronized motions. The dancers emoted so thoroughly with their expressions that in dividual characters emerged despite being stripped of most identifiable features by the costuming. (Monteabaro and Peil in particular know how to talk with their eyes.) With humor and subtlety and a touch of the uncanny, the dancers combined competition and camaraderie, empathy and subterfuge in a display one might summarize as “the lizards who lunch.” The arc was toward civilization, toward a more familiar humanity, but still with hissing, chittering traces of the primal, so that when in the third vignette the dancers soften their postures and in the fourth vignette they dance in synch to Tchaikovsky, a clear portrait of female dynamics emerges—one of strength and cunning more than tenderness.
Whim W’him’s core concept—classical modes reinvigorated by their fusion with contemporary movement and a multidiscplinary approach to all aspects of production—has been proved to be more than viable by Wevers and his collaborators, and in #UNPROTECTED one sees just how much variety in vision and style is yet to be explored. Ochoa’s piece in particular feels bound to become canon as her reputation grows, and all of the choreographers have demonstrated their ability to mature as they take risks. It’s rewarding as a repeat viewer to see it, but for first-timers and those wary of modern dance, it’s a program absolutely worth seeing.