Three's company

From left, Whim W'Him dancers Jim Kent, Justin Reiter, and Mia Monteabaro rehearse a work by New York-based choreographer Loni Landon for a triple bill to be performed Jan. 16 to 18.

Dancers Jim Kent and Justin Reiter paused barely an inch away from each other. Kent’s chin rested on Reiter’s shoulder, Reiter’s on Kent’s. Their fingers curled, tense and aware. Swiftly, their bodies began to move again.

Moments after, New York-based choreographer Loni Landon stopped the pair to give corrections.

“Guys, there has to be a reason why you’re switching, like the energy’s so intense the audience doesn’t even realize it,” Landon said to the dancers.

This is a typical scene in the studios of the Francia Russell Center in Bellevue. For the past few months, Seattle-based company Whim W’Him have been rehearsing for THREEFOLD, a triple bill to be performed from Jan. 16 to 18 at the Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center.

The program will feature a work by the award-winning Landon, Whim W’Him artistic director Olivier Wevers, and Penny Saunders, who most recently danced for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and the Chamber Dance Company of the UW’s Dance Program.

Wevers said when he’s putting together a show, he’s always looking for different voices that would challenge the dancers and balance the program.

“[This program] is three different ways of working, using bodies, thinking about the movement, or thinking about the body,” said Wevers, who was a principal dancer for the Pacific Northwest Ballet before retiring and starting his own company.

The pieces are as diverse as their creators. For Landon, the inspiration came from the dancers themselves. Because of the short time frame in which to create the work, she was more interested in capturing the personality of the dancers as opposed to getting exact steps.

“That takes a long time to coach,” Landon said. “Whereas when you take the essence of a person and use their kinetic energy, you can take a small movement and make a lot out of a variation of the theme of it.”

Landon’s piece is a trio full of both intimacy and tension. The dancers manipulate each other, sometimes without physical touch, as though sending electric currents that energize the field surrounding each others’ bodies.

During the creation process, Landon says she has lots of “choreographic games” she plays. Through improvisation, the dancers created movements which were then manipulated, edited, and played around with.

“I’ll teach them a phrase of my own material and I have them do what I call ‘remix’ it,” she said. “So to get another version of it … and taking your favorite steps and then reversing it, changing orientation, or changing directions.”

While Landon’s work often plays with the tension created by the almost-touching fingertips or limbs, Wevers’ work is full of physical contact with visceral and tactile movements. It involves two couples: one male duet and one mixed.

Wevers was initially intrigued by the idea of “same love.” He juxtaposes the movements of the two couples to show the uniqueness of each relationship and was especially interested in pushing the envelope with male partnering.

“As a gay man, when I watch two men dancing together, sometimes I feel uncomfortable,” Wevers said. “So I want to … put that side-by-side and experiment and question why do I feel that way when two men dance together, but I don’t feel that way when a man and a woman dance together?”

Wevers thought of the concept of “same love” reflected the social justice dilemma of accepting homosexuality.

“The idea of, ‘It’s the same love, we’re all the same,’ to me, it’s not real, it’s not genuine,” Wevers said. “To me the reality is that we’re not the same — we’re all unique; it’s not like one love is the same as another love, whether that’s homosexual [or] heterosexual, every love is unique.”

In contrast to the two smaller casts, Saunders’ “Soir Bleu” was created for all seven dancers of Whim W’Him. The piece will be set to music by Paul Moore, music director for the UW Dance Program.

In making the work, Saunders said she was inspired by the life and work of painter Edward Hopper, who, according to Saunders, is known for the way he places his subjects within their environment.

“They’re usually pensive, maybe melancholic … but they’re feeling, thinking something that we’re not exactly clear on,” Saunders said. “To me, it always seems like something just happened that we’re not aware of, or something is about to happen that we’re not aware of, but there’s these beautiful moments of anticipation that you sense from those images.”

Saunders started by picking her favorite images and then isolated scenic elements that bring architecture to the space. She hopes to play with stage lighting in specific ways, which mirrors much of Hopper’s fascination with light in his own works.

Saunders said she typically has specific ideas in mind when coming into a rehearsal, but not exact dance steps. She added that the interaction with dancers is always different depending on who she’s working with.

“I try to tap into what their individual personalities are like,” Saunders said. “If I have a rough idea of the characters I’d like to represent, then I’d certainly take the time to figure out who would best represent those, and then I let their personal movement or personality or humor bleed into creating what those characters are.”

For Wevers, inviting different choreographers was a way to introduce new ways of thinking about dance and to attract a wider audience.

“For the same price of a movie ticket and a popcorn, you can see real artists live onstage dancing new creations,” Wevers said. “It’s three choreographers that [audiences] won’t see in Seattle otherwise … [The works] are created here in Seattle, and we should be proud of that.”

Reach Podcast Editor Imana Gunawan at Twitter: @imanafg

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