Despite the casual rehearsal clothes of the dancers – sweat pants in primary colors, torn tights and one T-shirt that read “Pray for Me” – and a garbage truck beeping outside the studio, all threatening to impose unwanted comic subtext, choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s original piece Cylindrical Shadows silenced a chatty audience in PNB School’s Studio A and brought me to tears. And it wasn’t finished yet – at the time, Ochoa hadn’t even settled on the title for the piece currently in production for Olivier Wevers’ Whim W’him dance company.
Photograph by Lavie Photography
Ochoa is renowned internationally for her work, and it’s clear why in just a few moments. The dancers of Whim W’him rehearsing the piece, many of them professionals already established at PNB or Spectrum, further my appreciation for how formal mastery launches a free-form style into a transcendent vehicle for exploring sexuality, friendship, loss and grief. Translated into a physical arena, what feels cliché in words suddenly has powerful impact.
In particular, a duet performed by PNB principal Lucien Postlewaite and Houston Ballet principal Melody Herrera mixes incredible formal flourishes, perfect diagonals and lifts. Yet another remarkable layer takes it beyond form and into an interpretation of a scene in your life I am positive you will recognize if you’ve experienced death or grief. The dancers almost never stop touching one another, and their emotional commitment to the storyline is as clear in their faces as in their bodies. Instead of just perching Herrera over his head, as in classical pas de deux, Postlewaite equivocates between physically supporting her and clutching her with an awkward, simian sweetness, as if to say, “I can’t let you go.” Which is exactly how I felt shaking hands with these remarkable artists at the end of that rehearsal.
Whim W'him performs this program January 14–16, 2011 at Intiman.