Wevers in the studio with Kyle Johnson and Tory Peil. Photo by Bamberg Fine Art, Courtesy Whim W’Him.
As a growing number of dance companies turn to project-based models, Seattle-based Whim W’Him is taking a leap in the opposite direction. This season, the five-year-old troupe, originally project-based, will increase its dancers’ contracts from 16 to 25 weeks. “My first priority was to build a company with a base of dancers and a comfortable series of shows in Seattle,” says artistic director Olivier Wevers. “The next is to expand to touring, pay the dancers more and have more choreographers come in.”
The company has grown rapidly since its small beginnings. It currently boasts a budget of around $300,000—nearly two and a half times its original—and has hired former board president Catherine Bombico as executive director. These benchmarks help Whim W’Him secure its place in the Seattle dance scene, where only two companies, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Spectrum Dance Theater, operate full-time. Wevers attributes much of this success to building a local following; last year, he cut back the touring schedule to devote more time and energy to regional performances.
The lengthened contract has many benefits for the company. Under its former project-based model, repertoire was pieced together with small rotating casts of dancers, many of them guest artists from PNB. Now, the company employs seven dancers, two of them culled from a national audition. With a consistent group and schedule, Wevers plans to create longer works with full casts and add another production to the 2014–15 season. And he’s excited to provide a paycheck that allows his artists to make dance their primary job, though he says it is not yet enough to be self-sustaining, something he eventually hopes to provide.
In addition to putting touring back on the schedule, Wevers would eventually like to expand the company to 10 dancers—but not without steady fiscal support. “It’s all based on budget,” he says. “I can pay my dancers well or have more dancers that I don’t pay as well.”