REVIEW: Company Wang Ramirez’s Borderline

Company Wang Ramirez’s performance of Borderline was a breathtaking rendition of how dance can be used to express the metaphor of human connection.  The show began with Alister Mazzotti, the dancer in charge of lifts and rigging, moving the metal cube shown in the featured image into position.  He stood onstage, dressed in all black, for what seemed like a little too long.  Truth be told, the duration of his still, silent position made me a little uncomfortable.  To be fair, that was the point.  Instead of the box simply being a prop the dancers used onstage, it became the Box.  What did it mean?

I had a working theory throughout the performance.  When inside the box, dancers were together.  They were never alone, save one exception.  During this exception, a single dancer hooked up to the aerial rigging system floated through and manipulated the Box so that it was standing on its corner, balancing on the dancer’s rigging line.  Any dance numbers performed inside the Box became reminiscent of life inside structured society.  Compared to the solo dances performed outside the Box, movements were controlled.  The aerial solo display inside the Box reminded me of climbing up a corporate hierarchy, the illusion of floating akin to the euphoria of financial success.

Dances outside the Box, however, really defined the purpose of Borderline.  When performing duets, the dancers played at defying gravity.  They balanced on each other and pulled one another’s bodies in seemingly impossible contortions.  They used two bodies and used human contact to create a singular, fluid body.  Once their partner left them alone, though, the solo dancer’s movements would become frantic.  Still gorgeous, of course, but definitely angrier.  If you’re familiar with Martha Graham, one performance by Honji Wang reminded me of Witch Dance (in costume, emotion, and in choreography).

To me, the message of Borderline was the importance of human social connection.  Dancers needed each other if they happened to find themselves outside the Box.  When alone, they seemed to lose their way.  All of this was displayed with impeccable talent and control on the part of the dancers.

In terms of tech, the team was astounding.  The lighting designer, Cyril Mulon, had incredible talent when it came to outlining shapes.  At times, the dancers appeared to be wreathed in fire.  Other times, the movement of light exaggerated and complemented the choreography onstage.

This choreography couldn’t have been possible without Mazzotti.  Close to the end of the performance, Mazzotti remained visible onstage.  Wang was hooked up to the rigging system.  We got to watch Mazzotti lift Wang into flight.  He became a part of choreography.  The upper body strength necessary to keep that up for 70 minutes is unimaginable.

My only criticism would be the surprising use of dialogue on the dancers’ part.  Out of nowhere, two dancers started having a conversation about rice.  While it seemed out of place and almost tarnishing the authenticity of the performance up until then, the meaning made sense once the dialogue reached its end.  The message was this: people need some sort of energy – negative or positive – to retain their vitality.  The dialogue served to reinforce the need for human relationships in today’s world.

I found the message of Borderline beautiful.  The ability to express the depth of human interaction through (mostly) the movement of the body was very emotional to watch.  While some aspects of the performance didn’t make as much sense to me, thinking outside the box (pun intended) is a defining feature of modern art itself.

PREVIEW: Company Wang Ramirez’s Borderline

Check out Company Wang Ramirez at The Power Center on Friday, March 9 at 8:00 PM and on Saturday, March 10 at 8:00 PM.  The performance is about 70 minutes long.  There will also be a Q&A after tomorrow night’s performance.

Sébastien Ramirez and Honji Wang are a part of the 6 person dance crew which will perform Borderline.  Other dancers include Louis Becker, Johanna Faye, Saïdo Lehlouh, and Alister Mazzotti.

Ramirez and Wang both have a passion for experimentation even though they come from very different training and personal backgrounds.  The dancers will be attached to an aerial rigging system.  According to their blurb on the UMS website, their goals will be to enact “visual metaphors of flight, struggle, freedom, constraint, and the forces that connect us and tear us apart.”  L’Indépendant has characterized Company Wang Ramirez as a crucial part of the “contemporary dance revolution.”

I am incredibly excited to see this show!  If you are able to attend and wish to download a program on your own device, check it out here.

REVIEW: Bodies of Michigan exhibit

The Bodies of Michigan art exhibit put together by Natalie Giannos in Palmer Commons is located along the walls of the Windows Lounge.  That immediately made it difficult for me to look closely at the images because in order to do so, I needed to navigate around all the people studying and invade their space.  It also gave me the impression that while the images were in a public space, not many people were actually seeing them because they were so immersed in their own projects.  That made me a little upset because I found a lot of the pieces rather striking.  Therefore, I think a different venue would greatly benefit this exhibit if it’s going to run again next year — maybe something a little more intimate where the images can actually be observed closely.

The exhibit featured six images (there is a spot for a seventh image entitled “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not” Robin Rranza, but the picture looks like it was torn off the wall).  The collection overall was very colorful, with images like “Bad Boy Rebellion” also by Robina Rranza and “Alternatively…” by Sonalee Joshi.  I found this enjoyable because, despite the difference in medium, those two images captured two completely different types of people.  “Bad Boy Rebellion” could be representing more of a party scene whereas “Alternatively…” seemed a little more hipster and low-key.

Bad Boy Rebellion

While the majority of this exhibit was colorful, there was one photograph that stuck out to me.  Entitled “Loveletter” by Mackenzie King, it was a picture of a seemingly nude woman in monochrome.  I really enjoyed looking at “Loveletter” because the centralization of light silhouetted the model’s body in such a way that emphasized her curves beautifully.  The title of the photograph and its content really worked well together, and I enjoyed its simplicity.


Another image was “Goiters Caused by Coulrophobia” by Adrian Hanna, which presented a depiction of what looked like the interior of the human body.  This was an interesting piece because it had some 3-D elements.  The final image was entitled “I Know” by yours truly, a picture of my friends posed underneath a bridge in the Arb.

Overall, I think I would have enjoyed the exhibit a lot more had it been held in, for instance, its own room.  Despite that, I loved the concept behind it and all the different interpretations of the human body.

PREVIEW: Bodies of Michigan exhibit

The Bodies of Michigan art exhibit at Palmer Commons features a multitude of artists and their take on how they understand and interact with the human body.  Differing mediums, styles, and contexts convey everything from friendships to phobias.  I’ve personally been really interested in street photography lately, and the fact that this exhibit features photography as well as different styles is really fascinating.  I’m hoping to understand how other artists have chosen to represent their worlds.

It’ll be at the Windows Lounge until Thursday, and I’m excited to see it!  For more information, click here.

My contribution to the exhibit is also featured!

REVIEW: Matisse Drawings

Walking into the UMMA exhibit, you are greeted by a sky blue wall detailing a small biography of Matisse.  On the other side is Kelly’s biography, with Kelly’s collection of sketches in that section.

I looked at Kelly’s side first, since it seemed to be the smaller collection.  I noticed a lot of experimentation with differentiation of line thickness.  While all the sketches were simple in nature, they had a subtle artistic quality to them.  For example, in “Catalpa Leaf,” there were two lines.  They started off thick at the top, and only crossed each other at the bottom of the leaf.  The lines faded out there as well, adding a sense of fragility to the leaf that likely was meant to represent the leaf’s qualities in reality.  This theme was present in most of Matisse’s sketches, so I see where the dialogue comes in between the two artists.

Regrettably, photography was not allowed in the exhibit. Here is an image of “Catalpa Leaf” I found from the internet!

After viewing Kelly’s sketches, I went over to the Matisse side of the room.  I noticed a lot of exploration of the fluidity of form, as a lot of the objects in Matisse’s sketches seemed to blend into one another while still retaining their own shape.

One of my favorite Matisse sketches was called “Dance movement, Christiane.”  It detailed the legs and lower torso of a ballerina.  The lines, like in most of Matisse’s sketches, were shaky.  I thought maybe the unsteadiness of the lines was a representation of the dancer’s movement.  The woman I was with argued that maybe Matisse was inebriated while drawing it.  Both opinions are reasonable, I think.

A lot of Matisse’s other drawings demonstrated the progression of his creative mind.  For instance, “Acrobat, study” depicted a woman in the bridge position, with her torso facing the sky.  Matisse’s use of lines reminded me a little of the Kelly drawings – the only steady stroke represented the woman’s stomach.  If you’ve ever done the bridge stretch, you’ll notice the stretch in your core.  Matisse seemed to represent this in his ink strokes.  The rest of her form was loose and not accurate in any means.  Even from an expressionist viewpoint, it was not beautiful.

The sketch next to it, however, was interesting.  Entitled “Four studies of acrobats,” the figures were more well-defined and biologically accurate.  To me, this made them more aestethically appealing.  It definitely showed a progression in Matisse’s line of thought regarding how he wanted to portray the acrobats.

Other aspects of the Matisse collection that I found interesting were the drawings that reminded me of Picasso’s technique.  “Veiled woman” had many cubist qualities, such as the characteristics in her face and the way her arm melted into the veil around her head.  Beside “Veiled woman” was “Themes and variations VI.”The subject’s veil is unfinished, but should cover her face.  Her face, however, is obviously still visible and exposed to the viewer.  The same goes for her breast.  This suggests that Matisse saw her face and torso as the most captivating parts of her, and used expressionist technique to portray that.

Lastly, Matisse used lines to represent light.  In “Study, boat” the lines around the plant in the window are squiggly.  I saw this as the movement of light as it’s dappled by the world outside.  Of course, in a sketch, it’s impossible to make your subjects move.  Matisse accomplished a sense of movement by using different stroke techniques.

In conclusion, I was impressed by the collection at the UMMA.  It was fun to see “The Dance” in sketch form – it was actually really underwhelming compared to its meaning in expressionist history.  The progression of Matisse in his drawings and the (albeit somewhat minimal) dialogue between him and Kelly added a lot to my interpretations of the exhibit.

PREVIEW: Matisse Drawings

As someone interested in visual arts, Matisse has always presented somewhat of a predicament.  His works when viewed on their own have been criticized as lacking in artistic technique – harsh words to describe a world famous painter.  After taking a history of art class in which we briefly analyzed Matisse, I had to agree.  His work looked almost childish, shaky and unsure.  It wasn’t until we looked at “The Dance” that I changed my opinion.

It was the meaning behind the painting which made it beautiful… for me, anyway.  I’m sure a lot of people admire Matisse for his technique.  I, however, disagree.  I like to look at things in an almost backwards sort of way – how did the intended meaning influence the actual piece?  What did Matisse mean for “The Dance” and how does that meaning show up on the canvas?

That’s why I’m so interested in the UMMA exhibit, which opens tomorrow.  It’s from 11-5 until February 18th in the A. Alfred Taubman Gallery I.  It’s a collection of “forty-five rarely exhibited works by Matisse made in the first half of the 20th century, which reveal his process and range of creativity as a draftsman…” (according to the UMMA’s website).  Presented alongside Matisse’s work are drawings by Ellsworth Kelly (1923–2015).  Also taken from the website, “Kelly selected nine of his own lithographic drawings that derive from his time in France during the 1960s, when the American artist studied Matisse’s sketches and studies of nature and human figures.”

This exhibit will present a dialogue between two artists and will hopefully provide new insights regarding the meaning of each collection.