Critical Dance

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Olivier Wevers - An Artist For All The Right Reasons

By Dean Speer & Francis Timlin

In talking with PNB Principal Dancer, Olivier Wevers, it became clear that this dancer is an artist of the highest caliber and one who approaches his work and craft with an European sensibility coupled with an American love of openness and freedom. Highlights of our conversation follows.

What are you cast in for this tour?

While not completely confirmed, Kent Stowell's Silver Lining, Fearful Symmetries by Peter Martins, and Duato's Jardí Tancat.

Are you doing anything special to prepare (such as coaching in certain parts or gearing up aerobically)?

No; just approaching the tour as if it were a regular part of the normal performing season, such as a "Rep." program.

Tell us what's it's like to part of the strong clan of male dancers PNB now enjoys. How do you learn from each other?

It can be very inspiring but also overwhelming. The overall level of technique each one has is very high. Egos can play a part in this, as egos sometimes get in the way and can create tense energy in the studio. It's a challenge for all of us to maintain and push our technique on a daily and consistent basis and at the same time to develop our artistry. In America, I notice that young dancers tend to focus more on bravura.

What are some of the highs and lows of touring for you?

My family, including my parents and grandparents, are coming up on the train from Belgium to see me dance and this is very exciting for me. They have not seen me dance in a long time, so this is going to be great! The low has to be jet lag and the feeling of stiffness after sitting and traveling so long. We do get one full day and partial day to acclimate and then it's into the theatre to fully prepare for Opening Night.

Your training and career began in Europe. Please comment on any differences you've found between European and North American dancers and companies. And what are some of the differences and similarities of audiences?

One of the big differences is the focus in Europe on artistry. In the States, technique has a tendency to be the main focus. In Europe there is a respect and an understanding of the art form, an acceptance of individualism and there's also a rigid adherence to tradition. In North America there is an openness that I found attractive and this is one of the big reasons I've pursued my performing career here rather then in Europe - that there have been and are more opportunities. In Europe there is an "expected" way of doing things and it's easy to also find oneself trapped into a stereotypical box that's hard to break out of. Isn't this ironic?! That a place that values artistry is also a place where it's difficult to find the freedom to have that artistry. Back to technique: I feel that expression and artistry are achieved by the best technique; movement quality. That technique and artistry go hand-in-hand.

You've reported in the past that you enjoy character parts. Why is this? In addition to character parts, what kind of ballet do you most enjoy being in or watching - perhaps two different things...

Good question! I think character roles are the hardest to do, as they need to be performed at the best level in order to drive the show. For example the wicked fairy in Sleeping Beauty and 'Drosselmeir' in the Nutcracker are the catalyst for the entire ballet. Being a prince is wonderful, but artistically very limiting. The rehearsal process is as important as performance - it all comes down to human interaction; this is ultimately what it is about. I probably enjoy story ballets the most and like connections with my partners and like to see and experience chemistry and energy. This can be true for me even when the ballets that I'm in don't have a direct story. I can usually find something in the ballet to "hook" into.

Kent and Francia take a "hands-on" approach with all aspects of producing ballets and running a major ballet company and have been considered good mentors. How have they changed you as a dancer and artist?

I've never thought about this before! It's so different being the directors as they look at things from an entirely different perspective. One of the great things they've done for me is that they've cast me against type and have shown me that I CAN do parts that I didn't think I could do. For example "Tybalt" in Romeo and Juliet and Balanchine's Theme and Variations. They advised and coached me on this role and reassured me that I'd be fine and they were right!

Describe what it's like for you to learn a new ballet.

I'm lucky in that I'm a quick learner. I do additionally, my own planning and research such as reading about a part or ballet, most of the time on the Internet. I also watch other interpretations and versions from tapes, books only sometimes, such as reading Romeo & Juliet. My favorite times, as probably with all dancers, is when I get to interact with a choreographer or stager as we are being taught our parts. The human exchange of interaction and collaboration are important.

What are you looking forward to in the future?

I'm hoping for a greater level of comfort and self-confidence as a performer and to keeping open enough to learn more! I just spent some time in Hawaii so retiring someday to a beach paradise sounds really good! Seriously though, I'd like to see if I have a talent for choreography and to stay in the creative process such as coaching. I recently made a piece for the June PNB student showcase, which was a wonderful experience and it made me want to create more works soon.

Olivier Wevers joined PNB as a soloist in 1997 and was promoted to principal in 1998. He was trained at Karys Dance Center. He most recently performed as a principal dancer with The Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Wevers is from Belgium. Visit Wever's website at

Source: Pacific Northwest Ballet Website

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