In Part Two of our interview, Artistic Director Olivier Wevers revealed some of the challenges he’s had to face since birthing his new company, Whim W’him. Continuing now in Part Three, Olivier shares the ways in which Whim W’him will be a unique force in the world of dance…
Vala: You speak a lot about collaboration and the process of creating new works. In what ways will Whim W’him be different from other companies? How will it be unique?
Olivier: One of the things I’m trying to do with this company first is to bridge the dance community a little bit. Because what I’ve witnessed in Seattle over the past 13 years that I’ve been here is all these different dance communities—ballet, modern, contemporary, independent artists—everybody’s trying to do their own thing. And I really want to try to bridge that gap. I mean there are so many wonderful artists and I don’t think you need to be selective of one style and classify that one style either. In the way I pick the dancers—having PNB dancers, those classically trained dancers, Spectrum dancers that are dancers that usually dance barefoot, and then some independent artists in town—I’m trying to put all those dancers that would usually not get to work together, get to work together. It’s bridging the communities in Seattle and I want to bring back artistic collaboration.
Another thing that I’ve witnessed as a dancer is that so many people are blaming the economy that is so bad right now. So everybody is trying to do something like, “We’re going to create this ballet but we’re going to use this in-house designer, in-house lighting director, etc and we’re going to try to make it so that we don’t have to pay the orchestra overtime and such”. The resources are really limited, and it’s not just here but all around. So one of the things I really want to bring back is collaboration. Some of the greatest works to me are the ones that had a composer, a designer that was brought in, a few artists working on it, and a few dramatizers working on it. I want to go back to that. I want to be able to collaborate with other artists.
It’s been really rewarding because for the past few months I’ve been working with a composer, with a costume designer, a fantastic lighting designer—they’ve all brought so much to the work, so much more than I could’ve envisioned just on my own.
I get to do this because I’m also the one doing all the fund raising, so I know this is going to cost a lot more—it’s going to take a lot more time, more resources. But that also motivates me to work harder (at fund raising) so that I can do all the things that I want to do.
Vala: That’s fantastic! I would love to see that happen again. It’s been years since you would even heard about any sort of collaboration going on.
Olivier: Yeah, that’s right! I see how it happens behind the doors. It’s not about the process anymore. Choreographers 20 years ago would spend months in the studio. For example, some people say Jerome Robbins was a genius, but he never just went in the studio and created a piece in two weeks. It took him months and he would re-work it, and re-work it, and re-work it in the studio. It was all about the process as well as the product. Then adding in collaborators as well—sets, music, designers. None of that exists anymore. The process now is, “How fast can you choreograph?” and then “Can you use this in-house person for this and that?” Not that these people aren’t talented, but when the work becomes so in-house, there’s no inspiration. Those people—the costumers, etc—don’t feel like they can say anything, so there’s no artistic exchange going on. It’s important for artists to be able to pick their own collaborators. You need to work with people you have an interest in working with and those who will inspire you.
Vala: I’m really glad that your whole basis is about the process. It’s nice to see there are people like you who choose to develop as a dancer, and create a work of art rather than just a performance.
Olivier: You know, what happening a lot in ballet is that we’re settling. Yeah, it looks pretty and someone can produce it really fast. But imagine if that person could’ve spent another three weeks or a month or two on it, and could’ve worked with those other people gathering more ideas. Ballet to me is starting to look a little like a museum piece where you see the same things over and over. We need to keep ballet alive. I love all the pieces but if that’s all you’re giving, people are going to get bored with that. You need to push the artists, push the envelope. Discover new ways of connecting to the audience; discover new ways of doing ballet.
Vala: I agree 100%. Years ago the character development was very different from what it is now. Dancers had to convey their character through every inch of their body. It wasn’t just “Here are your steps”. You had to make your character breathe through every inch of your being.
Olivier: That’s not what’s happening anymore. Once you know your steps, you get a show. I remember when I first started 20 years ago in Canada, I was coached my first time in Giselle. And I don’t know how many hours I spent in the studio just learning how to walk! You know, this ballerina from Russia was making me cry because I couldn’t do it right. I didn’t know how to walk on stage! And none of that is taught anymore; everything is just kind of taken for granted.
When creating Whim W’him, I chose that name because I didn’t want it to be all about me. Like the Olivier Wevers project or company. I didn’t want that. I’m interested in bringing in different choreographers to work with these dancers of different backgrounds in the future. Therefore, I need to do more fundraising so I can start doing that. I want this to become a really collaborative and versatile company.