REVIEW: Company Wang Ramirez’s ‘Borderline’ at the University of Maryland

Choreography by Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez
Kay Theatre, The Clarice, University of Maryland
College Park, Md.
November 1, 2018

By Morgan Pravato

For one night, November 1, Company Wang Ramirez transported the audience at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center to a hypnotic, enticing world of hip-hop influenced, techno-driven movement. Expert movers Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez direct the French troupe of self-trained dancers, and help to create a wonderfully organic performance while performing with them.

The first image the audience sees is a large metal cube towering over the Kay Theatre stage. Its presence remains strong throughout the work. At times, it looms over the dancers, making them appear minuscule. Other times, it is manipulated and appears as an equal. Dancers move on, through, and around its impressive structure. Throughout the work, they transition between confinement within the structure and dancing with it as a duet partner.

Each of the six dancers emerge on stage wearing pedestrian-like clothing. Their casual ensembles of t-shirts and pants prove to be incredible contrasts to their near superhuman capabilities. The ease with which they execute their choreography is extraordinary. Each performer seems to possess a special anti-gravity property, allowing them to move especially lightly.

These elements are enhanced by the use of rigging throughout the performance. The dancers only appeared more weightless when strapped into the harness. The possibilities of levitating movement are fully explored with the harness as an addition to the cube.

Allowing the dancers to fly through the space created a unique connection between them and the cube. One of the most breathtaking moments of Borderline is a solo performed by Louis Becker: strapped into a harness, he flies about one of the cubes. While the structure’s presence is somewhat overwhelming, the dancer remains calm as he effortlessly scales the sides. In one breathtaking moment, he balances perched on the top of the cube as it stands on only a single edge.

Borderline is packed with memorable moments with the cube and harness. However, the power of the dancing could easily stand on its own. The first male duet proves that: They enter the space in darkness, emerging from a far corner. They push against each other as they walk before finally breaking away. In a sequence of extreme counterbalancing, pushing off and pulling away from one another, the each twists and turns around the other’s body.

The dynamic between the pair is undeniably strong. They appear to feed off of each other’s energy, creating a performance that grows livelier as the choreography unfolds.

The musicality of each step in Borderline is beautifully crafted, as it remains an iconic element of any Wang Ramirez production. Driving techno music by LACRYMOBOY enhances each dancers’ movement, as the choreography seamlessly transitions on and off the driving beat, while also moving in and out of silence. Both are expertly used as opportunities to change the mood and intensity at certain moments.

Despite the seriousness with which much of Borderline is performed, surprising moments of comic relief are present. While much of the 70-minute evening features strong male performers, one of the evening’s best moments was a duet with the only two female dancers, Honji Wang and Johanna Faye. The women emerge from opposite sides of the stage facing each other, dressed in skirts and heels. They inhale and begin walking confidently towards each other in a hilariously exaggerated and distorted stance. With their heads pulled back, chests pushed up and pelvises ridiculously thrust forward, they “fight” for the spotlight.

Overall, Borderline felt like a sheer demonstration of the power and talent of the dancers. If only that was its sole intention. Choreographers Wang and Ramirez address the powers of hate, love and indifference in their work, verbally explaining an experiment done by a Japanese man on the powers of positive and negative energy.

“Ignorance kills,” one performer roars.

While an important message, Wang and Ramirez would have succeeded even more had they simply showcased their special, original movement. Such an intense, broad message required further clear attention. It felt like an unnecessary addition to an already beautifully constructed piece. Borderline was definitely a fantastic work of art, but the performance was easily muddied by the semi-political message. Had the energy that went into forming that message gone solely into the choreography, Borderline would have been a truly perfect work.

Top: Saïdo Lehlouh and Johanna Faye, Company Wang Ramirez
Bottom: Company Wang Ramirez in Borderline, photos by Frank Szafinsky, courtesy The Clarice

Morgan Pravato is an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park pursuing a BA in journalism and dance under the Journalism President’s Scholarship. She began dancing at the age of three, studying tap, modern, contemporary, and ballet before attending UMCP. She currently writes for the campus paper The Diamondback while balancing rehearsal time. A dance lover since childhood, she continues to pursue her dance and writing passions.