ADF Puts Company Wang Ramirez and Its WOW Factor on the Big Stage



Sebastien Ramirez in Borderline, at ADF 7/22/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.


Company Wang Ramirez blew like a fresh clean wind into the ADF last season. This year they have returned with a darker work that–although it was made in 2013–captures the fearful zeitgeist of 2016. The dancing–augmented by aerial work–is no less amazing than that in last year’s American Dance Festival presentation of Wang Ramirez’ Monchichi. But Borderline replaces the cheerful identity-wrestling of Monchichi with unnerving switchbacks in the imagery–home becomes prison; flight becomes captivity;  friendliness morphs into hostility with a single gesture. Borderline‘s 70 minutes are utterly engrossing, its aesthetic glories underlined by the hinted horrors of confinement and restraint, and by occasional outbreaks of violence.


Sebastien Ramirez and Honji Wang in Borderline, ADF 7/22/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.


The company’s style is based in hip-hop, but incorporates–whatever it wants or needs. In this case, there are five dancers and an aerial rigger, whose work is not hidden, keeping us aware of his complex role. He can give the dancers freedom from gravity; he keeps them safe. But he also restrains and restricts them. In the beginning, two women in harnesses, led to separate lines, struggle and surge toward an open steel construction. One will make progress, but her progress drags the other back–or perhaps she/they are both puppets and the rigging master represents Fate. Eventually one dancer reaches “home” and we breathe in relief. But “home” quickly turns to a prison cell. Every image of safety or freedom is complemented with one of danger or confinement. The steel constructions (which reminded me of Antony Gormley’s constructions for Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Babel) are continually reconfigured by the dancers, and the flow of movement is never broken–yet one feels the hovering possibility of brokenness, of a forced halt, of freedom impeded. There are many images implying a puppet master controlling the action.

It’s possible that I’m over-reading this, but I don’t think so. It seems more likely that these multicultural Spanish-French-Korean-German artists were just ahead of the political curve with their interest in boundaries and borders, in what flows over and between and what is halted or corralled by the lines and boxes we make around our cultures and countries.

Whatever its meanings may be, Borderline is also chock-full of beautiful scenes and astonishingly vital movement–the kind of movement that makes a person proud to belong to the human race, and supplies a modicum of hope that we will continue to dance the earth a little longer.

One note: the lighting is very dim. The camera saw these scenes better than I was able to. If you have opera glasses or binoculars, take them. But by all means, go tonight if you can. Check with the DPAC for tickets–last night’s house was quite full. Be sure to stay for the joyous curtain call dancing. Last night Honji Wang whipped out a bunch of fouettés in the midst of her breaking and floor-spinning.


Company Wang Ramirez in Borderline, at ADF 7/22/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.


Opening Tonight: A Youthful VIOLET

One of the lesser-known pleasures of summer around here is the theatre production which culminates the annual Summer Youth Conservatory program of PlayMakers Repertory Company. Talented stage-struck students from Triangle area schools work for about a month with professionals in PlayMakers’ facilities at UNC-CH to prepare a show, generally a musical; a little later in the process students interested in the backstage work join them for technical training. Then late in July, the show gets a full production in the Paul Green Theater in the UNC Center for Performing Arts. The ones I’ve seen have been thoroughly enjoyable, full of heart and overflowing with good energy.


L to R: Presyce Baez as Flick, Wilson Plonk as Monty and Ainsley Seiger as Violet in PlayMakers Summer Youth Conservatory production of VIOLET.  Photo: Jon Gardiner.


This year’s production, Violet, derives from a story by the late great Doris Betts, “The Ugliest Pilgrim.” With wonderful, varied, music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Brian Crawley, it’s a fine conversion of the touching story about a young, scarred  girl from Spruce Pine, NC, and her travel into the wider world. The lead role is filled by Ainsley Seiger, who did such a fine job last year in Guys and Dolls. Matthew Steffens, who led that production, directs and choreographs again this year.


Marcella Cox and the ensemble in PlayMakers Summer Youth Conservatory production of VIOLET. Photo: Jon Gardiner.


Violet opens tonight, July 21, after a preview show, and will play July 21-23 and 29-30 at 7:30 pm, with matinees on July 24 and 31 at 2 pm. Modestly priced tickets here.

Big Art in a Small Box: Trajal Harrell in Sheafer as ADF Continues


Trajal Harrell, left, with Ondrej Vidlar, performing in Duke’s Sheafer Theater, 7/19/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.


Trajal Harrell is amazing. His work is so smart that watching it will probably make you live longer, because you can feel the neural pathways lighting up in your brain as it tries to make all the connections quickly enough to follow the parade of thoughts and feelings as they shimmy and sashay through a dense atmosphere of image and sound. And then there is the dancing, which tends to short-circuit thought and take you directly to real meaning. It is exhilarating. Also, Harrell can be very funny, but he may make you cry, too.

I was introduced to the stage art of Trajal Harrell this spring at Carolina Performing Arts, and Harrell’s was among my most anticipated productions at this summer’s American Dance Festival, where Harrell is being co-presented by the ADF and the Nasher Museum of Art.

This show has a crazy long title, but don’t be put off by Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (M2M). The more you know about early Post-Modern dance c. 1963 and the Harlem ballroom Voguing style of dance, the more subtleties you will appreciate in the work, which is just one section of a must larger project. But you don’t have to know anything, just pay attention.


Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (M2M), 7/19/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.


You may feel that the work’s first section goes on too long. Almost nothing happens except that a couple of phrases are repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated, with jazz-like modulations of tone and inflection.  Certainly my mind wandered to my grocery list. But after Harrell declares “conceptual dance is dead!” and the actual dancing springs forth, you realize that the ensuing euphoria required that initial compression.


The fabulous dancer Thibault Lac glamorizing the concrete box of Sheafer Theater, ADF 7/19/16. Photo: Grant Halverson.


This is a very high grade of performance art, and guaranteed to be 100% free of the me-me-me virus that infects so much of contemporary dance theatre. It’s not for everyone, but if you are up for a challenge, don’t miss this. And if you sit in the front row, the dancers will come within inches of you. It is fantastic to observe the details of their glorious bodies (Trajal Harrell has the most beautiful feet), and to be–as Harrell asks–a witness to this highly crafted, but unvarnished, truth.

This program repeats July 20 and 21 in Sheafer Theater, lower level of the Duke Bryan Center, at 7: 30 pm. Tickets here.


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