Embracing small, below-the-radar troupes, the spanking new Ballet v6.0 festival (until Saturday) has taken a risk: the talent is as likely to be stuck as it is to be fresh. In its first New York outing, Seattle’s Whim W’Him – the four-year-old brainchild of former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Olivier Wevers – was a bit of both.
Wevers’ Flower Festival took the Bournonville gala staple on a gay ride. For the buoyant alternating solos of boy and girl, the Belgian substituted a wrestler’s romance between two men, the first fellow fluorescent and flirtatious, the second butch and fiercely resistant. The appealing Andrew Bartee and Lucien Postlewaite (current and former Pacific Northwest dancers respectively) used their discarded suits and ties to snag and constrain each other. Flower Festival lacked only a final twist – that this strenuous seduction turn out to be a daily routine, say.
As for The Sofa, it might as well have been called The Bench for all the blurry liminal pleasures of sofa it conveyed – how a person can snog or fall asleep or watch hours of bad TV there without having to declare his intentions. Actually Wevers seemed more interested in the score, Mozart’s Jeunehomme concerto, though not enough to depart from the typical Northern European choreographer’s reduction of Mozart to mere mannerist, without profound sweetness or urgency.
By this last dance, the steps had stopped speaking. Wevers’ style – the muscular partnering and jabbering hands – had become an end in itself, a common problem among ballet choreographers, apt to forget that your language only matters when you have something to say.
And yet smart steps can spark ideas, and did in the triptych Monster, a provocative give and take between the conventions of the pas de deux and such heavy themes as bigotry and dependence. The gay lovers in the first duet partnered one another not by fingertips but around strong middles as if to suggest the hardy support they would need from each other in a hostile world. Two addicts ballooned, then collapsed, over one another like a syringe filling and emptying. And a duet between a clingy woman (Melody Mennite) and a menacing man (Postlewaite) lent rare meaning to the neck-holds and caveman lugging of limp females that crop up regularly in contemporary ballets.