Whim W’Him Rehearsal. Choreography by Olivier Wevers • Photo by Allina Yang Photography

For many years, Seattle dance company Whim W’Him has produced a Spring Fling fundraiser, and alongside it, the company will also present Spring ’23, featuring work by three choreographers, Emilie Leriche, Olivier Wevers, and Rauf Yasit, and the performances of seven dancers, to pursue their mission of exploring the human condition.

This year’s dancers include Nell Josephine, Leah Misano, and Kyle Sangil. “Because Whim is a smaller company with only seven dancers, most of the time every dancer is featured in all the pieces,” Josephine said. “For Spring ’23, I will be in all three works and we are currently finishing up remounting Olivier’s past work, Stabat Mater.”

Likewise, Misano is looking forward to performing in the entire slate of dance pieces. “This is a diverse program where each piece demands a different skill set from us dancers,” she said. “Contemporary dance is a huge bucket of different types of movement and techniques, and I think this program encapsulates that.”

Josephine agreed. “This production has been the most versatile program I’ve been part of in my two years here!” she said.  “Each piece is so uniquely different from the others and I’m excited to see how the audience reacts.”

Misano uses the metaphor of language to delve into this variety. “With each piece, there is a different movement language that we have to dive into,” Misano explained. “A large part of my preparation for this performance is making sure I understand the nuances and differences between each language.”

Concurrently, Sangil has also been exploring tone and texture for his work in all three pieces. “A lot of my preparation for our show is to do my homework, and make sure that I am stable and confident for my team,” he said. “One of the most interesting things I’ve learned from this show is finding that balance between softness and stability within movement.”

But the preparation for this festival has gone beyond the variations in choreography.  “Something that stands out to me about this show is that we’ve all had to learn how to dance in different footwear,” Josephine elaborated. “We mostly dance in socks, but for this show I’m dancing in socks, heels, sneakers, and also barefoot! It’s been fun exploring different ways to connect to the ground and learn about the fun ways it affects my dancing.”

Whim W’Him Rehearsal. Choreography by Olivier Wevers • Photo by Allina Yang Photography

Josephine, Misano, and Sangil are from disparate parts of the U.S., and the recent Covid-19 pandemic created the conditions to bring these artists together in Seattle.  “The pandemic created a lot of fissures in people’s lives and I saw mine crumbling, losing opportunities and having to pick up the pieces in order to continue being an artist,” Josephine recounted. “An opportunity to audition for Whim W’him was just the thing I was looking for, and I am fortunate to have been accepted into the company.”

Misano’s story is similar. “I graduated from college in 2021, and since the start of the pandemic, I had very few chances to perform on a stage in front of audiences,” she reported. “I auditioned for Whim W’Him not expecting much and ended up being offered this amazing opportunity to come to Seattle and work and perform with the company for a year!”

Meanwhile, Sangil’s graduation from Point Park University in Pittsburgh last April also spurred him toward new adventures. “I decided to drive from Pittsburgh to New York for a weekend and audition for Whim W’Him,” Sangil said. “The next thing I know, I’m a resident of Seattle. Whim W’Him is why I’m in Seattle and I am very proud to say that.”

Moving across the country from Boston has been challenging for Misano. “I remember that my family is a family of nomads,” she shared. “My dad’s family immigrated here from Japan only a few generations before me, and my mom is also an immigrant.”

She takes her strength from multiple generations. “Misano is my Japanese name, something I inherited from my great-great grandmother who immigrated to Hawaii from Japan,” she said.  “I know I come from a long line of resilient women, and I hold onto their strength as I deal with this challenging transition of my own.”

Josephine, too, finds fortitude in a female role model, Lauren Edson, Artistic Director of LED, whom Josephine met in 2013. “When I came back to work with her from 2018-2021, it was only growing exponentially and I was more than ecstatic to be part of that growth,” Josephine said. “One of my most two favorite memories was the process of the full-length production of Jabberwocky in 2019 and the film Ruin which was created during the pandemic.”

Each of these artists brings foundational memories of dance to their current work. “My first dance performance I ever saw was in Boise, Idaho, by a pre-professional company called Balance Dance Company with dancers up to 18 years old,” Josephine recalled. “What made it compelling to me was the use of humor as well as the use of dialogue within the music.”

Josephine felt she could really relate to the show. “I remember turning to my mom and saying, I want to do what they’re doing,” she remembered. “Next thing I know, I’m taking classes with the Balance Dance Company school and eventually joined the pre-professional group when I turned eleven.”

Stumbling into dance is a common theme. “I grew up playing soccer since I could walk, and I was really close with a few of my teammates as a kid,” Misano said. “Around the age of ten or eleven, I was spending the night with one of my teammates, and she had an audition for her dance studio’s Nutcracker the following morning. My mom couldn’t pick me up before the audition, so I decided to just go with my friend, and since I was going to be there, I thought it would be fun to participate in the audition.”

Misano was cast in the production. “I rehearsed once a week and got to perform in the shows, and I just loved the whole experience!” she enthused. “After that, I started taking ballet classes and I quickly fell in love with it.”

This seemed natural for Misano, whose entire family was very athletic. “I loved that ballet was this difficult task of training your body to move in such a specific way,” she said. “It was something that used my full concentration, mind, and body, and I loved that feeling of hard work and dedication.”

Likewise, Sangil’s pursuit of dance came of happenstance. “My earliest memory of seeing a dance performance is a hip hop dance crew on a TV commercial.,” he reminisced. “I was only about 12 or 13, I got on the family desktop, typed in youtube, and searched up hip hop dance crews.”

There was no shortage of search results. “From then on, I approached my parents with a video asking them if I could learn how to do this,” Sangil said. “That question led to my dad and I traveling to different dance studios after school asking about hip hop classes.”

They found iRule Dance, which offered an all-boys hip hop class. “What helped motivate me is my wonderful parents saying yes and supporting their son trying out a dance class,” Sangil related. “Before I knew it, that first day of hip hop class became the start of my dance career, dance life.”

While in high school, Sangil trained with Bolshoi Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.  “These two training programs really highlighted what my independence meant to me.,” he said “It taught me many useful life skills, time management, taking care of my mind and body, and learning how to move my body for myself.”

The dancers are now all settling in to the Seattle environment. “There is something very magical about where Seattle is located,” Josephine said. “Washington is a beautiful state and it has revealed an unknown love for the outdoors that I never had the chance to fully embrace.”

She also started hiking last summer, and ended up climbing Mt. Baker. “I work at a rock-climbing gym and take trips to many places to boulder and rope climb outdoors,” she said. “I also learned to snowboard this February and went to the mountain almost ten times before the season ended.”

Meanwhile, Misano is taking a break from the teaching she has done for many years back in Boston.  “As a teacher, I strive to teach my students to find and seek out joy in movement, especially when I am teaching younger students,” she said. “Dance is a difficult craft and brutal profession, but when you find the joy, it is magical.”

For now, Misano is getting acquainted with the Pacific Northwest. “I would love to offer open classes to the Seattle community, but I am also keenly aware of my position as someone new to the city, brought in by opportunity,” she said. “There is a strong dance community in Seattle, and I think it is important for me to learn more about the community and dancers here first.”

Echoing the others, Sangil is also relishing developing a new life in a new location.  “A year later and I think I’ve only scratched the surface of my routine and life here,” he said. “It is a beautiful thing, being able to start over, being able to prove to people who I am through my movement.”

Whim W’Him’s Spring ’23 runs May 12 to 20 at Cornish Playhouse, 201 Mercer Street, Seattle; May 17 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, 565 Camano Avenue, Langley; and May 24 at Vashon Center for the Arts, 19600 Vashon Highway Southwest, Vashon. 

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