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Wang Ramirez’s Borderline crosses genres in gravity-defying work

Hip hop and contemporary dance meets martial arts in Wang Ramirez's Borderline. Photo by Frank Szafinski.

Every so often an innovation comes to dance that actually pushes its boundaries and creates something new. French dance company Wang Ramirez’s work Borderline lives in that world, using fully-integrated rigging to allow the dancers to move freely and intentionally through space without the limitation of gravity.

The result, an apparent crossover between hip hop, contemporary, and circus performance styles, is considered the natural outcome of Sebastien Ramirez and Honji Wang’s explorations.

“We don’t work and think in styles of dance,” says Wang, “What we do is we have a profound background of hip hop dance so that what we do on stage is pure physics … we don’t define it. Every creation we do is a new discovery, is research of our own style.”

Their work is also fully integrated into their lives as people, not just as dancers. “We always try to push our boundaries, if it’s personal, physical, or choreographically.”

On a personal level, both Ramirez and Wang are the children of immigrants living in France, Ramirez born in France to Spanish parents, and Wang born in Germany to Korean parents. This experience of being second-generation immigrants, of being born and raised in a different country than their parents, is one that Wang describes as being “always confronted by the topic of defending, of growing, of finding our spot and being 100% integrated.”

This experience was one of the inspiration points for Borderline. Wang describes a seminal kitchen table conversation with Ramirez’s Spanish-born father about democracy, questioning the different ways it can be defined and what it really means when played out in people’s lives. Interested in his experience of nationhood and democracy, Wang recorded his words which later were integrated into the performance.

The other main point of inspiration came from a simple coincidence: a friend of a friend who worked as a rigger in the stunt industry, working with stunt actors to create mind-blowing car crashes and fight scenes. When Ramirez, who was working on martial arts at the time, had the opportunity try it out, he couldn’t get enough.

“As a breakdancer, you are constantly confronted with gravity while having to do tricks on the floor that must be seamless,” says Wang on the initial appeal of working with wire rigging, “Sebastien fell in love with the technology and the feeling of weightlessness.”

As is often the case with artistic creation, one moment of inspiration leads to a host of logistical issues. Working with wire rigging meant bringing the riggers along for the ride – people used to working in the film industry with its quick takes and big budgets. They needed to develop a brand new rigging system that allowed the dancers to use the whole stage continuously while being simple and adaptable enough to be built and rebuilt in theatres around the world.

The riggers also needed to learn the choreography, “it’s a very delicate, fine work of synchronizing the movements,” says Wang. “The rigger really needs to know the choreography, and more than that, he needs to know the feel and the weight of the movements that we are going to do.”

Of course, there is no question in Wang’s mind that it’s all worth it.

“We are able to share this work, the research, the creation that we did, with international audiences,” she exclaims. “When you feel that onstage and you know that you made people feel happy, made them dream, then you forget about all the hard work and painful moments that creation brings.”

Borderline plays the Vancouver Playhouse on October 26 & 27. Visit dancehouse.ca for tickets and information.

Categories: Dance
Andrea Loewen :Andrea Loewen is a theatre-maker, yoga instructor, and writer in Vancouver. When she has some down time she enjoys some green tea and quality time with her cat, Miss Gertie Marie.