<b>FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS | </b>By Deanna Duff For the Weekly Herald
Andrew Bartee’s body elastically transformed itself during rehearsals for Whim W’him dance company’s upcoming repertory.
Wearing striped-green socks and frequently tousling his shock of red hair, Bartee intently focused on each step and spin – until the music stopped and he was inevitably overcome by a huge, enthusiastic grin.
“Dance is the way I speak and I don’t know what I’d do without it,” said the 21-year-old Everett native. “If I don’t dance for awhile, I start getting the wiggles!”
As a 10-year-old, Bartee was introduced to ballet by a family friend. He was immediately hooked and, after much dancing around the house, enrolled in local classes. He was accepted to the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) School in 2003.
“My mom drove me every day from Everett,” Bartee said. “I started riding the bus – about an hour each way – when I was around 15 years old.” He studied at PNB two hours a day, four times a week while also attending Everett High School. He joined PNB as a full company member in 2008.
“It’s nice when people appreciate dance because a lot of blood, sweat and tears go into it,” Bartee said.
As a PNB corps de ballet member, Bartee has danced everything from traditional Balanchine pieces to more modern fare.
“He works so hard and it’s incredible how much and how fast he’s progressed,” said Lindsi Dec, PNB soloist. Now in her 11th year, Dec first partnered with Bartee last fall and is consistently impressed by his versatility. “His sense of contemporary movement is incredible. Any time there is a style like that, such as Whim W’him, he really excels.”
Whim W’him, founded in 2008 by retired PNB principal dancer Oliver Wevers, is an internationally acclaimed blend of ballet and contemporary dance. Only 15 dancers have participated and Bartee, the youngest member, has been involved almost since the start.
“He’s been an anchor. He’s dedicated and absorbs and transforms the material to make it his own,” said Wevers, principal choreographer. “He has a great sense of humor, too. I’m looking for the best dancers, but also great personalities.”
Bartee will dance his first extended Whim W’him solo in the upcoming “Approaching Ecstasy” (May 18-20). Four years in the making, “Approaching Ecstasy” is Whim W’him’s most ambitious production to date. Local artist Eric Banks scored music based on the poetry of Constantine P. Cavafy and the live performances will include 40 singers, seven dancers, a string quartet and harpist.
“It’s fantastic to be part of this project,” Bartee said. “I love collaborations because it changes the dynamic by incorporating different artistic voices.”
Bartee is expanding his own artistic voice to include choreography. He has created two pieces as part of PNB’s Next Step program. Next Step allows company dancers to create new works which PNB School students perform. Bartee’s contributions impressed Peter Boal, PNB’s artistic director, who invited Bartee to choreograph a new piece for next season’s “All Premiere” mainstage performance.
“Innately musical, Andrew’s movement quality as a dancer is unique. He’s capable of pure fluidity and raw power, qualities which can also be found in his choreography,” Boal said.
Bartee is appreciative of the opportunity, especially since he hopes for choreography to eventually become his second career. “It’s huge! I’m trying not to have a nervous breakdown,” Bartee said with a laugh.
Whether bringing to life someone else’s vision or creating his own, Bartee values the sense of community dance creates.
“I do this because I love it and nothing else in my life feels better than dancing. There is also a part, though, that isn’t about me. It’s about giving it away and sharing it with the world around you,” he said.
Whim W’him ‘Approaching Ecstasy’
WHEN: 8 p.m. May 18-19, 5 p.m. May 20
WHERE: Intiman Theatre, 201 Mercer St., Seattle
TICKETS: $15-$125, www.brownpapertickets.com