Wit Wins in Olivier Wevers’ “Cast the First Rock in Twenty Twelve”

Olivier Wevers has done it again. Combining challenging choreography and a strong eye for humor and subversion, Whim W’Him’s Artistic Director brought the company’s third full-evening production to the Intiman last weekend. “Cast the First Rock in Twenty Twelve” starts out strong with two beautifully performed comedic pieces, but falters in the second half, as Wevers’ attempt to tackle the weighty topic of capital punishment fades into a muddled narrative structure and dancers who at times appear emotionally void.

In “La Langue de L’Amour,” former PNB dancer Chalnessa Eames filled the stage with a playful solo, combining pedestrian movement (walking heavily across the stage) with modern dance and classical ballet technique. Eames’ skill is unquestionable. She executed Wevers’ fast-paced choreography with ease, performing split-second position changes with seamless precision and occasionally flirting with the audience, sending out winks, waves and kisses. Although Eames wore pointe shoes, she wasn’t always on them, a smart move from Wevers that prevented the piece from falling into too balletic of territory. His choreography was frank but funny, set to the lighthearted piano of Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in D Major, which perfectly matched Eames’ performance energy. 

In “Flower Festival,” Wevers successfully takes a classic, the Flower Festival pas de deux from Danish choreographer August Bournonville’s 1842 “Napoli,” and reinvents it with modern sensibilities. He’s being subversive, but the use of humor lightens the load. Traditionally, the pas de deux is performed by a young countryman and his female lover costumed in peasant dress. Wevers replaced them with two men, Andrew Bartee and Lucien Postlewaite (both appeared courtesy of PNB) dressed in business suits.

The lighting (Michael Mazzola) gave the impression of a boxing ring on the stage, and Postlewaite and Bartee squared off in opposite corners, each with a wooden chair. Wevers followed the same structure as Bournonville (intro, the pas, individual variations) and his choreography was, once again, technically complex. Bartee and Postlewaite engaged in a humorous standoff, each attempting to out-perform the other, and eventually stripping off the suits to reveal bright silk boxing shorts with matching socks (costumes: Mark Zappone). Postlewaite exhibited his usual strength (high jumps, powerful arabesques, muscles flexing) while Bartee’s performance was lighter and more playful, his limb extensions touched with a hint of achingly beautiful grace. Even amidst the rivalry there is a hint of the intent of the original as the two men perform a series of acrobatic entanglements and a touch of the hand appears more tender than terse. 

The heavyweight of the evening was “thrOwn,” Wevers’ attempt to address the universal topic of capital punishment. Danced against stunning earthy sets from Steve Jensen, Wevers created an uncharacteristically narrative piece, splicing a metaphorical section into the middle of the story. Eames, a woman in a traditional society who strays from her arranged marriage, is the only character that remains constant throughout the work. Bartee started out as her husband, Postlewaite her lover, and along with Tory Peil and Jim Kent, they were supposed to transform through a series of characters including jailer, mother, son and executioner. The format of the piece, as well as the cacophony of characters made these distinctions confusing and difficult to deduce. The choreography was strong (a mix of modern, ballet and surprisingly musical theatre) and the dancing precise, but the performers seemed to be holding back their own emotional states—Eames was more convincing in her character in “La Langue de L’Amour.” That’s not to say that the piece was unsuccessful. The montage of pantomimed execution methods (hanging, the guillotine, stoning) and the violence of the flogging scene were performed with convincing passion. As the straying woman Eames was strongest in her illicit duets with Postlewaite as her lover—the erotic caresses and undulation of hips contrasting with the way in which he carried her stiff body around the stage throughout the piece.

“thrOwn” was a work full of contrasts—male vs. female, society vs. the individual, religion vs. reason—and so was the night as a whole. Wevers purposefully chose to pair the piece with the two comedic works, a move that galvanized the two sections completely. And while the first two were cleaner and more clear-cut, Wevers took a bold, mostly successful risk with “thrOwn,” tossing his own rock out of the circle of playing it safe.   


Image: Tory Peil and Chalnessa Eames in “thrOwn,” courtesy of Bamberg Fine Art.