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: Dancing Globally

Before Dancing Globally, I hadn’t been to a modern dance performance in years. It had been so long that I honestly couldn’t really even remember what to expect. When the lights dimmed, I looked over at my friend in the darkness and grinned, with the excited feeling of being on the first side of a mystery.

As soon as the curtains opened, both of us could tell we were in for something exciting. The first performance, probably my favorite of the four, featured a semicircle of dancers wearing suits. Each dancer had a chair that they used as kind of a prop, and throughout most of the performance, hardly anyone moved very far away from their chair. This is part of what made the choreography so creative: not only were they interacting with the chairs in unique ways, they also managed to make it feel as though they were interacting with each other—and with us, the audience.

My favorite part, though, was the suit aspect. Throughout the performance, they removed aspects of the suit one by one—the jacket, the hat, even the pants—all except for one standalone dancer at the very edge.

The costumes ended up being a standout part of the entire night; the third piece, for instance, was completely different, but still striking in part because of its visual aspect. The dancers were performing against a backdrop of projected flowers, and they all wore vibrant, colorful outfits. This gave me the semi-subconscious impression that maybe the dancers themselves were meant to represent flowers, or something like flowers. This interpretation was reinforced toward the end, when three of the dancers stood under a stream of water that looked like an actual spring from the natural world, transplanted onto the stage.

The final piece was definitely more somber than the rest, with shaded, semi-uniform costumes and dim, melancholic lighting. However, it was still entrancing to watch, in part due to the constantly shifting nature of the choreography and the “scene” unfolding on the stage. It was definitely a powerful closing piece for the night.

Dancing Globally was a welcome representation of the work being done in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, in part because of its sheer variety and in part because of the balance it was able to strike between engaging and thought-provoking. Overall, the night was definitely a success, and I look forward to attending more dance performances in the future.

REVIEW: Flux by Cadence Dance Company

Cadence Dance Company performs “Green Light”

“Continuous change or movement.”

That’s the definition of the word flux. But it’s also a summary of Flux, Cadence Dance Company’s winter show.

With a collection of contemporary pieces set to a soundtrack of indie music, Cadence, a self-choreographed dance company, showcased more than just movement. They told stories with every piece, stories that changed and evolved as the dances developed.

Especially in their large-group numbers — which I preferred to the small-group ones — Cadence showed a willingness to take risks with their choreography. The opening number, “8 (Circle)” utilized unique formations and lifts to great effect.

The small-group numbers didn’t have enough dancers to use those formations, so several of them had more standard contemporary moves. That didn’t mean it wasn’t innovative, though. My favorite of the small groups was “All Night,” which featured stools as props.

Cadence was strong technically, especially when it came to their turns.  There you could see the amount of rehearsal they put in; their turns were well synchronized even in complicated turn sequences. But at the same time, they didn’t overdo it on the turns.

However, my favorite technical aspect of Cadence’s dances were the lifts. Many numbers — especially the large-group ones — incorporated impressive lifts that at once showed grace and strength.

I was especially impressed with the finale, “Landfill.” The choreography was unique and affecting. The lifts and turns looked good. And though it was a full-company number, the end featured partner work. The partner choreography added to the meaning of the dance’s narrative about a toxic relationship. The two partners’ chemistry was such that it made you feel something. The number packed a punch and was the perfect ending to the show.

Cadence’s penultimate piece was called “Vor Í Vaglaskógi.” It was a senior number, a concept I haven’t seen from any other student groups. I liked the concept of giving the seniors one last number together, and that added more meaning to the movement.

That said, some of Cadence’s other numbers were somewhat forgettable. They weren’t bad by any means, but there was somewhat of a gap between the best numbers of the show and the others. I may have made the show a little shorter — putting more emphasis on the strongest numbers without really taking anything away.

The guest numbers — from hip-hop crews FunKtion and Encore, a cappella ensemble The Friars and tap dance group RhythM Tap — complemented Cadence nicely without overshadowing the main show.

All in all, Flux was an impressive concert that brought to the table things I haven’t seen from any other student dance group.  Their passion for what they did shined through and created something unique and bigger than themselves.

REVIEW: halfway between

halfway between was a show about relationships.

Relationships with the other dancers, with the space, with their faces and bodies and the music.

Both the choreography and the dancers themselves captivated, really illustrating the relationships central to the storylines of each dance.

The concert, a senior showcase for three BFA Dance students, began with “b r e a k,” a piece choreographed by Danielle Fattore. Although the piece was technically not a solo, Fattore was the centerpiece while the rest of the dancers served to set the scene. Despite minimal sets, the piece painted a vivid picture of a bustling city as Fattore danced down the streets, completely ignored by the rest of the crowd going about their daily business. The piece was simultaneously upbeat and cynical, the tale of a girl unknown and unnoticed.

Both “Away With It,” choreographed by Callie Marie Munn, and “Ellipsis,” choreographed by Yoshiko Iwai, utilized the entire space in unique ways. The choreography felt animalistic at times as the dancers fought each other, as if each aimed to assert dominance over their own territory. The dancers pulled off this portrayal near-flawlessly, exerting precise control over their body and movement.

The music they used wasn’t easy to dance to, but the dancers proved they were up to the challenge, staying on the beat and hitting their accents. There were a few points where, either by accident or by design, the music stopped, but the dancers handled it with grace, still moving to a nonexistent rhythm. However, at times I felt a bit of a disconnect between the music and the choreography, almost as if the music was just something on in the background while the dancers created a story, and I would have liked to see a greater bond between the music, the choreography, and the dancers.

One of my biggest complaints about modern dance is that the dancers sometimes lack expressivity, and I felt that “Away With It” and “Ellipsis” both suffered from this. They were intriguing explorations of relationships, reminiscent of a piece of performance art, but both lacked the emotion that truly pulls me into a dance. So when Munn performed her self-choreographed solo, “With It Or It,” it was a breath of fresh air to see the emotion on her face. The piece was a lot simpler than those that preceded it, but it was also the one with which I connected the most.

Munn’s two pieces in the show were “Away With It” and “With It or It.” Given the similar titles and the fact that the music she used for both dances was from the same album, I wondered if the solo was meant to be a continuation of the group dance. However, the two pieces didn’t seem similar to me and I couldn’t find a real connection between them.

“Mend,” choreographed by Fattore, was the perfect finale. The only dance in the show to a song with lyrics, “Mend” played like a theatre performance, telling the story of a night in Paris with friends. I was especially impressed by the first soloist in the piece, Kiara Williams, whose expressions truly carried the narrative. “Mend” explored many of the same themes as the rest of the show: relationships, group dynamics, and identity.

My favorite thing about halfway between is that it wasn’t mere entertainment; it made me think about themes familiar to every college student. And that’s what marks a good piece of art.

halfway between runs for one more night, tomorrow at 8 PM at the Dance Building, and if you’re looking for somewhere to be, I highly recommend this unique show. Tickets are $7 general admission at the door.

PREVIEW: halfway between

For dance students at Michigan, their coursework concludes not with a thesis or project, but with a concert.

halfway between, a BFA dance concert, is the culmination of four years of hard work for three students: Danielle “Dee Dee” Fattore, Yoshiko Iwai, and Callie Munn. The concert consists of solos and group work choreographed and performed by the students themselves.

The dance program consists of technique classes, mostly in ballet and modern dance, and labs in improvisation and chorography as well as coursework on the history, culture, and biomechanics of dance. This concert is the consummation of that work. As someone who has recently gained a deeper appreciation for the art of dance, I’m eager to see their performances.

halfway between runs this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (December 7, 8, and 9) at 8:00 PM at the Betty Pease Studio Theater in the Dance Building. The show runs about an hour with no intermission. Tickets are $7 general admission at the door.