Pandemic life is nothing new: it’s in the headline of every arts event, and it’s the center of every news story, hashtag, and home. It is shocking how rapidly a single word can trigger dread and create a sense of isolation, or even mania, within an entire population. In these many months, the world has faced a great deal of change, and while isolation has proven to be one of the biggest challenges, we all have found ways to create the personal interactions we so intensely crave. Art has been a surprisingly integral part of these interpersonal interactions—watching a live stream from your favorite singer can be just as engaging as a phone call with a friend, and viewing short films on Zoom together brings us that much closer to the ones we care about. The opportunity to become invested in art and creativity is, in many ways, more accessible than ever. Arts organizations have adapted to COVID-19 by utilizing their websites to increase interactivity with hope of adding the personal touches that help thaw the loneliness of their audiences and supporters. Theater and dance companies have faced the same challenge: how can a theater bring audiences the gift of a show and continue to offer cherished community spaces when they aren’t physically open? This summer season, the artists of local dance company Whim W’Him had to find that answer for themselves.
“We decided to pivot into making dance films” says Whim W’Him artistic director Olivier Wevers. Before COVID-19, the dance company’s summer season XALT was set to consist of two live shows—MANIFOLD and The Way It Is. These pieces intended to explore the human journey and bring the audience into an intimate storyline, latching onto the personal, yet universal, emotions of the audience members and artists alike. But COVID-19 spun the arts world on its head, leaving many dance companies unprepared and in search of new ways to reach audiences. XALT’S MANIFOLD, choreographed by Penny Saunders, and The Way It Is, choreographed by Wevers, use dance to perfectly capture the loneliness of quarantine. It is strangely comforting to see the socially distanced dancers in these performances tread carefully, so as not to step into each other’s space. Whim W'Him dancer Andrew McShea and company dancers performing Olivier Wevers' The Way It Is during a pop-up appearance at Myrtle Edwards Park in Seattle. Photo by Stefano Altamura.