A pandemic-born partnership dances on at arts center

Whim W’Him’s “WINTER ‘23” — featuring fresh work by three acclaimed choreographers — will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, January 25, in the Kay White Hall of Vashon Center for the Arts.

Seattle’s world-class contemporary dance company, Whim W’Him, will return to Vashon Center for the Arts to perform its new season, “WINTER ‘23”featuring fresh work by three acclaimed choreographers — at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25, in the Kay White Hall of Vashon Center for the Arts (VCA).

There are moments in history when you remember where you were and what you were doing when something dramatic, even life-altering, occurred.

In recent memory, that collective time could well be March 13, 2020, when the government declared COVID-19 a national emergency.

For Whim W’Him, the historic day found the company on stage at VCA, rehearsing for an upcoming show that never opened.

What opened instead was the beginning of a strong partnership between the award-winning dance company and VCA.

Whim W’Him’s artistic director and former principal dancer for Pacific Northwest Ballet, Olivier Wevers, credits VCA’s executive director, Allison Reid, for envisioning the collaboration.

“Right before the pandemic, Allison and I connected. She saw the benefit for islanders of bringing a professional company to VCA,” Wevers said. “It has been hugely beneficial to do a residency here, teach master classes on stage, invite students to watch our show for free, and share our work with the community.”

Reid, for her part, said that building a relationship with Whim W’Him was one of the few positive outcomes of the pandemic.

“There is something very special about the company, and a mutual joy between our staff and theirs,” Reid said. “A lot has to do with going through the chaos of the past three years together. I’ll never forget Olivier’s words that ‘we are better together.’ He’s right. We — the community — all have had to lean into each other, and it has made us stronger.”

Art and community are key words for both VCA and Whim W’Him. Indeed, the dance company’s mission is to “nurture community with contemporary dance by cultivating space for artists to imagine and explore the human condition.”

“WINTER ‘23” exemplifies Whim W’Him’s directive, showcasing innovative new dance work from acclaimed choreographers, in collaboration with global choreographers Mike Esperanza, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, and Wevers. Seven of the company’s dancers will perform the pieces.

Esperanza, a multi-discipline artist, founded BARE Dance Company in 2005. His work has been presented at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and The Royal Conservatory in Cordoba, Spain, among othe renowned venues.

Jessica Abrams, in Explore Dance Magazine, described his choreography as “bold, athletic movement and theatricality. The company epitomizes dance of the new millennium: shape-shifting, vernacular-blending with a prescient focus on the brave new world in which we live.”

Ochoa, an award-winning choreographer, created her sixth piece for Whim W’Him and the “WINTER23 program. Wevers hired Ochoa 12 years ago when she was an emerging choreographer. Since then, her wide-ranging and prolific body of work includes creations for 72 dance companies around the world, pieces for theater, opera, and musical theater plus 23 short dance films.

Imaginative storytelling and movement exploration fuel Wevers’ passion for choreography.

Creating dances, he said, “feeds my perennial curiosity, [becoming] my way to express myself, and in the process to be able to learn more about the human condition — start dialogues, touch people and share ideas, reflecting on our times and our humanity.”

Since launching Whim W’Him more than a decade ago, Wevers aspired to find a permanent home for his company.

Last December, that dream became a reality with the purchase of a building on Queen Anne, in Seattle. While Wevers has grand plans for the building — classes, events and a dance school — his connection with VCA and the Vashon community remains integral to his future vision, an objective Reid wholeheartedly applauds.

“Living on an island without easy access to major culture hubs like Seattle or Tacoma doesn’t mean we should go without world-class talent,” she said. “Forging strong relationships with an extraordinary artistic company like Whim W’Him means more opportunities for our island youth, especially our dance students. Olivier believes, as strongly as I, that our youth should have affordable access to enriching arts experiences. When I broached the idea of making their performances free for youth, Olivier agreed immediately.”

And the company? They also “love our relationship with VCA and the island community,” Wevers said. “The dancers look forward to taking the ferry and staying overnight. Vashon is our island home.”

Find out more and purchase tickets at vashoncenterforthearts.org.