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

 

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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.

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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.

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

 

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MONCHICHI, Je t’adore: Company Wang Ramirez Lights Up Reynolds

Before I say anything else: If you didn’t see Monchichi, the utterly charming work by Company Wang Ramirez, on one of the first two nights of its three-night run in Reynolds Theater as ADF continues, stop reading and call for tickets right now (919-684-4444). Tonight, July 9, is its final performance.

Company Wang Ramirez in Monchichi. The arm work in this sequence is as liquid as waves. Photo: Nika Kramer.

Company Wang Ramirez in Monchichi. This sequence is as fluid as an ocean wave. Photo: Nika Kramer.

Sébastien Ramirez and Honji Wang together are Company Wang Ramirez, and this is their first appearance at the American Dance Festival with their “urban Tanztheater,” but I doubt it will be the last. The duet they dance here, Monchichi (2011) could make even the most boundary-bound, border-loving localist appreciate the positive aspects of globalization. The dancing is inventive and delightful; the talky element, pared of excess, makes its point finely; the music is cool and the lighting (Cyril Mulon) gets a big gold star. Unlike the new duets in the Dynamic Duos program, this work is fully developed and polished to a sheen.

Wang–a German born of Korean parents–and Ramirez–a Frenchman with Spanish parents–have in spades the very thing missing from most identity politics: humor! Monchichi mixes a flirtatious little drama of boy-girl pursuit, evasion and pairing, with very funny commentary (physical and verbal) on identities, both personal and national. Several languages are spoken. And did I mention the dancing? It is of the How did they DO that? variety.

In fact, the dancing would be enough, even without the superbly crafted theatrical elements. Ramirez is a self-taught hip-hop dancer; Wang’s background includes ballet and martial arts. They’ve blended these styles into something new, beautiful and refreshing. There’s no anger in the flashy, aggressive street-style moves, but all the snap you could ask for. The duo combines the clean, sharp angularity of various martial arts and of break dancing with the liquid flow of Tai Chi and graceful ballet into a series of slightly surreal skits with onstage costume changes, and the total package exhilarates the viewer. Oh, and there’s magic.

Monchichi begins by plunging the theater into moments of velvety darkness, before the curtain rises on Wang, minimally clothed, a dark silhouette against a barely-lit backdrop. That rich darkness tells you clearly that in a moment you will be imaginatively entering a different world. And although the performers eventually speak to the audience, they remain contained in their glowing stage-world. Slowly the lighting increases, and Ramirez is revealed lounging, shirtless and shoeless, behind the sole scenic item, a twiggy tree. We see the most of the gorgeous bodies in the first dance, but soon the costumes additions begin, as a pair of glittery high heels comes flying onstage. The costumes are part of the probing at identity, and they hardly obscure the dancers’ marvelous abilities, instead pointing up how diverse they are. And, thanks to the wonders of modern lighting, the tree also changes “costumes.” The ever-shifting conditions of the lighting make the commentary on the defined, if spiky, edges of identity and the edgelessness of earth-space even more interesting. All together, Monchichi is amazing, and deserving of the prolonged standing ovation (four bows!) it received on the 8th.

Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez have some incredible over and under moves. Photo: Nika Kramer.

Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez have some incredible over and under moves in Monchichi. Photo: Nika Kramer.

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