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A Fiendish Conversation with Whim W'Him's Olivier Wevers

The dance company's founding artist director discusses the intimate new show #unprotected and dancer superstitions.

By Seth Sommerfeld May 14, 2014

Olivier Wevers at (playful) work.

Under the Olivier Wevers's direction, Seattle contemporary dance company Whim W'Him continually pushes the boundaries of ballet. Since its inception in 2009, his collective has explored territory that's bolstered the diversity of the Seattle dance landscape and morphed from a side project for dancers into a full company. The group's latest show #unprotected consists of three new works by Wevers, Amsterdam choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, and young Pacific Northwest Ballet favorite Andrew Bartee. Patrons can get closer to the action than ever before as the company moves to the intimate 150-seat Erickson Theater Off Broadway for shows May 15–23.

For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we talked to Wevers about the variety of #unprotected, feeling like a gypsy, and his old performance superstituions.

What about the upcoming #unprotected show has you most excited at this point?

I’m finally starting to see the other people’s work. It’s exciting to see how each voice is very individual. I’m realizing that it’s going to be a very varied show. That’s always exciting when that happens because when you put a show like that together, you ask people that create and they all come from different places and different ideas, and you never know what you’re going to get.

In what kind of ways are the three dances varied?

The style of the works, the moods of the works—that’s important to me to keep the evening flowing with different speeds, different moods. I’m also excited about being in the Erickson and not having any wings. We’re using the black walls around the theatre. There’s no front curtain, there’s no wings, there’s no place to hide. It’s exciting. It’s a little bit scary, but exciting.

How did you guys end up deciding to work in that space?

Something I’ve been wanting to do is not to be set in our ways and not be stuck to what we’ve been doing in the past. And so I think it’s great for us to be performing in a different part of town, not just the Seattle Center. That’s where we’d be expected to be at. Also, we were looking for smaller venues so we could have more shows for our dancers. It’s really about reaching out to a different community, appearing in a different place in town; that we’re not just where we’d be expected. Hopefully it’s something we’ll do in the future. It’s a way of challenging ourselves.

How do you feel like Whim W'Him has transformed in the five years since its initial formation?

Well, we have our own dancers now. We used to be like a pickup company. So I would talk to people like, “Are you available for these shows? What is your schedule like?” and then try to puzzle together the rehearsal schedule for the artist. So that was always kind of hard to schedule, hard to put together, even creating, to have everyone in the room. And now we’ve moved on to having our own dancers that we work daily from—10 to 3 every day—on those reps. We now have a base that’s much more secure for creation. We work with the same artists that grow together, that work together. We really have a place where we can have choreographers coming in and be fully creative and just focus on the creation. Next year, we're actually going to presenting three reps, so we’re going to be able to offer more work to our dancers, more choreographers coming in, and growing that.

Do you know when those three Whim W'Him works will be presented?

It’ll be January, May, and early October in 2015.

As a native of Belgium, how do you feel like Seattle has influenced your approach to dance and your overall artistic process?

Somehow this is home. When I got here I fell in love with the city. And being with PNB for 14 years, I got to explore a lot of different styles, which really opened my mind to a lot of stuff that’s not very classical, which is mostly what I do now. It’s very far away from classical ballet.

I’ve always felt almost like a gypsy. I left home early to be a dancer and I was just kind of going where I would get a job or where things would happen for me. And when I got to Seattle somehow, that became a place where I felt like, “This is where I want to grow old. This is where I want to be based.” There’s a sense of isolation. A lot of people feel we are isolated from the rest of the country—we’re on the upper west side of the country. It’s actually great. It’s very freeing. It’s very liberating. We could be in different cities that are much more crowded with things that’re happening, and here we have a much more laid back freedom in creating. There’s a lot of people doing their thing, and I’m able to do my thing and find the support. It feels like home. It feels like this is where I need to be.

Are there any up-and-comers in the dance or artistic world around Seattle you think people should check out if they haven’t already become aware of them?

Andrew Bartee is an amazing artist that we have in town who is really dabbling in a lot of things. He’s very mature for his age. He’s bringing a lot in the dance community. Zoe is doing great things.

Do you have any pre- or post-show routines these days?

I used to be very superstitious as a dancer. I guess that there’s always that little bit in me. I’m trying to get away from that. What’s important to me now is what I can do for the dancers to prepare for the show. My routine—and I would feel nervous if I would forget it or I would not do it—is go and talk to the dancers and inspire them before the show. And then make sure to go right after and be the first people that I talk to. That, to me, is a routine that’s important.

What were some of your superstitions when you were a dancer?

I had a lot of silly things. My warm-ups had to be folded to the side of the stage and under a table or a chair. Couldn’t be on top, it had to be under. It’s really silly. What else can I think of? There was a way of brushing my teeth before the show. I had to make sure to have good breath. Just little things like that. I had to knock on my forehead three times—I couldn’t do twice, I couldn’t do four times, it had to be three times—before I would go on stage. It’s very freeing not having to deal with that anymore. (Laughs)

Whim W'Him: #unprotected
May 15–23, Erickson Theater Off Broadway, $30–$50

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