XPRESS, contemporary dance company Whim W’Him’s January program, explores a variety of social themes through three short dance works. XPRESS began with choreographer Ihsan Rustem’s “Of Then and Now,” a showcase of innovative movement. Clothed in color-block costumes designed by Meleta Buckstaff and seemingly stuck somewhere between the ’80s and a Star-Trek future, the troupe gracefully made their way through short vignettes.
“Of Then and Now” began with pairs of dancers vividly miming a sped-up version of everyday actions. The piece slowly evolved into more independent, graceful movements set to the music of Johnny Cash. The variety of choreography showcased how versatile the Whim W’Him dancers are; regardless of style, they are cohesive and expressive.
The choreography was beautiful, but “Of Then and Now” had moments of awkwardness, mostly attributable to the music. In what was an otherwise stunning duet between Jane Cracovaner and Adrian Hoffman, the contrast of the dancers’ graceful movements with Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” felt unwieldy. The effortless and fluid movements clashed with the upbeat music in a way that failed to accentuate the choreography. Although moments like this made “Of Then and Now” falter, the piece still highlighted the diverse skill set of the dancers, as well as Rustem’s choreographic range.
XPRESS’s second piece, “Behavioral Skins,” fell somewhat short in comparison to the rest of the night. Choreographed by Sidra Bell, the program notes described “Behavioral Skins” as a piece that “eliminate[s] the superficial,” and it certainly met this expectation. The work is incredibly stripped down—the dancers, costumed by Meleta Buckstaff, were dressed completely in black and white and moved on a barren stage to an unsettling combination of whispers set to music.
While “Behavioral Skins” definitely seems to “eliminate the superficial,” that didn’t make it satisfying to watch. Although the piece was danced gorgeously it suffered from resolution issues, exemplified in the duet between Liane Aung and Hoffman. In direct contrast to the smooth, repetitive choreography that persists throughout the rest of the piece, Aung confidently stood on Hoffman’s back as he crawled across the stage. Although this began as a stunning moment that broke up the repetitive choreography, it ended rather suddenly after Hoffman made his way off stage. Bell’s decision to not finish the movements in this section doesn’t come across as “eliminat[ing] the superficial,” but as awkward. Finishing sections isn’t necessarily superficial and neglecting to do so made for an unsatisfying piece.
Whim W’Him artistic director Olivier Wevers’ “Blind Spot,” the third piece and most successful of the three, “questions what happens when we fail to see differences and struggle to regain our kinship.” The most visually stunning of each of the pieces, Wevers kept the dancers in near-constant motion. Interspersed between calmer moments and solos, all eight dancers periodically ran across the stage throughout the piece, creating intricate and cohesive tableaus.
Wevers’ choreography and mission for “Blind Spot” is accentuated by lighting design from RSVR and sparse costuming. When the looming yellow spotlight was turned off, the dancers’ costumes were revealed to be in distinct colors, but when turned on, it diminished the differences between the costuming. In less careful hands than Wevers’, the color-block costuming and the use of light to eliminate said colors could have made the titular theme of “Blind Spot” far too literal. However, the piece’s choreography added enough depth and raw beauty to keep it intriguing.
XPRESS was presented by Whim W'Him January 17, 18, 24, & 25. For event information see here.