EKSTASE: Approaching ecstasy with Whim W’Him
In a highly-anticipated collaboration with Whim W’Him, Saint Helens String Quartet, and the Intiman Theatre, The Esoterics is excited to present the world premiere of Approaching ecstasy, a concert-length dance collaboration based on the life and poetry of the Alexandrian poet Constantine Cavafy. This new 90-minute work, which was composed and will be conducted by Founding Director Eric Banks, will be sung by 40 voices of The Esoterics, accompanied by the Saint Helens String Quartet and harpist Melissa Achten. Approaching ecstasy will feature 7 dancers from Whim W’Him, choreographed by founding director Olivier Wevers, and Casey Curran’s innovative set design will set the stage of Seattle’s Intiman Theatre into perpetual motion.
The seeds for this collaboration were planted in the summer of 2008, when Banks traveled to Egypt, and while in Alexandria, visited the home of his favorite poet, Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933). Upon his return to Seattle, Eric met Olivier (who was then still dancing at Pacific Northwest Ballet, before he founded Whim W’Him), and shared a number of Cavafy’s poems with him. Cavafy’s work immediately appealed to both, and inspired them to create this collaborative piece around the life and work of the poet.
In Approaching ecstasy, Banks has set eighteen of Cavafy’s poems – in both the original Greek, and in his own English translation. These poems describe Cavafy’s secret life as a gay man living in Egypt a century ago. The poems that Banks chose are vivid portraits of his lovers as well as his friends, “expressions of fear, hope, remembered love, and excruciating beauty.” Cavafy’s verses are clandestine, courageous, intensely intimate, and inspire hope for the openness of a future society. After choosing the poems and winning a Seattle City Artist Award to compose this work, Banks began to compose Approaching ecstasy last May, and finished the score in January.
Wevers’ choreography will interpret the sensuality and sincerity of the poet’s desire, as well as express the frustration, danger, and oppression that Cavafy must have experienced in his daily life. The Esoterics will be singing in alternating Greek and English, with both instruments and a cappella, in ensembles that range from a quartet of singers to the entire choral complement of 40. Banks’ score incorporates North African musical influences (including Egyptian maqamat and muwashahat – scales and rhythmic patterns) in juxtaposition with Western musical elements – to represent the cultural confluences of Alexandria at the turn of the last century.
Banks and Wevers have striven to create a work that will break the mold on contemporary dance and choral performance. Whim W’Him and The Esoterics are honored that this premiere will be included in Seattle Center’s “The Next 50” celebration.