“This piece is about how people meet, how they interact and form relationships.” Spanish choreographer Juanjo Arques stands in a studio at Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Bellevue outpost, addressing a group of board members and donors who support local dance company Whim W’Him. Arques speaks with a strong Spanish accent, explaining the inspiration for Crossroads, a piece that will premiere this weekend as part of “Instantly Bound,” the program kicking off Whim W’Him’s fifth season. It will be Arques’ first time presenting his work in the United States.
“I don’t want to be literal or narrative,” he says, “but I started with this idea of three apartments. Two girls meet for the first time. They are both young and wild, but one of them is not interested in the other. Then there is Laura whose house has a window and she can see everything that is happening. There is also a couple having [relationship] trouble,” he laughs,” and one of the girls is gossiping about the other one, so there is a little bit of drama.”
It’s like Beverly Hills 90210 with pointe shoes and plies. Arques’ choreography sensual and raw, focusing on human interaction, especially in the duets with Tory Piel and Kyle Johnson, where they play off each other’s movements with a moody energy and strong emotional pull. They’re tender, angry, violent and loving towards each other, embodying a sympathetic relationship. Everyone can relate.
“It feels very strong because it has a dark theme to start with,” says Olivier Wevers, founder and artistic director of Whim W’Him. Wevers met Arques years ago when they both worked for the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam. “Juanjo creates a different atmosphere on stage. When I watch it seems like he’s creating a new way of communicating that is more visual somehow. He’s been able to make us visualize what’s going on between those two people without words or connections.”
Wevers is also premiering a new work, Les Sylphides—his response to the Michel Fokine’s 1909 ballet of the same title, which is considered the first non-narrative ballet. Wevers admits that the only thing he uses from the original is Frédéric Chopin’s music. Dancers frolic, play and fight, with various couples switching partners, men becoming jealous and a very “drunk” Jim Kent hilariously stumbling about, baffoon-like, often needing help just to stand up.
“There are no white tutus, no pointe shoes,” Wevers says with a smile, sitting on the floor in the hall outside the studio where Arques’ rehearses the Whim W’Him dancers. “I basically tossed everything out the door and created something new. It’s humorous. It’s a dinner party with three couples and an uninvited guest. There’s drunkenness, flirting, an affair! It’s a comedy, and not to be taken as seriously as a lot of my work.”
By contrast, the first piece of the evening-length show is. Instantly Bound, a work developed for Philadelphia’s BalletX in 2013, is Wevers’ reaction to the school shootings and gun violence that seem to have escalated over the past five years. According to the choreographer the piece was not meant to make any grand statement or try to convince people to choose a side, but rather to explore his own emotional reactions to the feelings he had when he heard about the various acts of violence.
“When those kind of tragic events happen I think there is a community that gets created and strangers all of the sudden become non-strangers,” he says. “Whether its learning more about the lives of people involved, or having new conversations with the people around you… the deconstruction of that moment when an event like this happens instantly binds people together.”
Like many creative people in Seattle, Wevers is interested in other artists’ work—both in the dance world and beyond. To open the 2014 season, Whim W’Him is experimenting with collaboration with visual artists to turn the lobby of various performance spaces (in this case the Cornish Playhouse) into a pseudo art gallery so that attendees have a chance to view new art and spark fresh conversation. The idea came earlier this year when Wevers was choreographing in Michigan for the Grand Rapids Ballet. ArtPrize, an independently organized international art competition that turns downtown Grand Rapids into an engaging three-square-mile art show—work is displayed in creative venues, museums, on the street, in restaurants and shops—was happening at the time.
“I saw this piece, it was this 20′-by-10′ huge piece of paper with this automatic rifle drawn with intricate pencil,” he says, “and on the left side there is a box with 2,000 erasers each with the name a school shooting victims. The artist invites you to erase a piece of the rifle and then move the eraser to the other side. By the time I got there the gun was totally erased but you could still see the outline and the paper was all rough where it had been. It was so moving because you can try to forget it and you can erase it but no matter what you do it’s still there.“
Wevers was so affected by the piece, and how it related to Instantly Bound, that he contacted the Boston-based artist, Greg Boker, and asked him to recreate the piece, slightly scaled down, to have in the lobby during the weekend run of the show. Several Seattle artists (unrevealed at time of press) will also be shown.
“I’m incredibly excited for this show, and the chance to expose other artists’ work along with my own,” Wevers says. “The program is pretty heavy, but my new piece is a comedy, and that’s why it’s last. Better to end on a positive note.“
“Instantly Bound” runs at the Cornish Playhouse January 17-19. Tickets here.