BWW Review: BORDERLINE at Ottawa's National Arts Centre - Company Wang Ramirez Experiment with Dance Fusion and Gravity in a Soaring Production

BWW Review: BORDERLINE at Ottawa's National Arts Centre - Company Wang Ramirez Experiment with Dance Fusion and Gravity in a Soaring Production
Company Wang Ramirez in Borderline © Frank Szafinski

As we wait for the show to begin, a large metal cube, open on three sides, hangs suspended over the stage, gently turning.

As the lights dim, the cube is moved to a corner of the stage closest to the audience. Two figures appear on stage and move as if they are running towards the cube, first slowly, then with increasing desperation. Each time they approach the cube, they are jerked back as if by an unseen force (which, in reality, comes from a rigging system attached to each dancer with a harness). In today's political climate, given the title of the production, as well as the fact that Company Wang Ramirez are from Europe, the imagery evokes the sense of escaping from some dark force to a sanctuary but being thwarted at every turn. Ultimately, a man clad in black appears and breaks one dancer free, while the other is banished into the darkness.

Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez have structured Borderline in such a way that the production is segmented, with each scene playing with emotions or suggesting moments in time, rather a continuing narrative. The audience was treated to an after-show discussion where Wang noted that inspiration was drawn from multiple sources, including questioning what the meaning of democracy truly is.

The dancing is phenomenal. Although Wang and Ramirez are becoming increasingly renowned as a duo, there are actually six performers in this production. Along with Wang and Ramirez, they are Louis Becker, Johanna Faye, Saïdo Lehlouh and Alister Mazzotti, who also serves as the rigger.

BWW Review: BORDERLINE at Ottawa's National Arts Centre - Company Wang Ramirez Experiment with Dance Fusion and Gravity in a Soaring Production
Defying gravity © Frank Szafinski

The dancing style is varied throughout the performance, ranging from pure hip hop and breakdancing to a fusion with more classical styles and even elements of martial arts. The rigging system allows the dancers to appear weightless and brings the action on the stage to different heights, allowing them to utilize the entire stage space to their advantage.

Each dancer has their own style and brings something unique to the performance. The program liner notes give some background into each performer's base, which includes b-boying, hip-hop, ballet, contemporary dance, acrobatics and stunts. The diversity of the performers' skills results in a collaboration where styles that would normally not be associated with the other are fused to create memorizing scenes. Some of the choreography is wonderfully synchronized and we can see why Madonna selected Wang and Ramirez to assist with her choreography on her Rebel Heart tour. The costumes, from Anna Ramirez, showcase the dancers' movements and enhance the appearance of defying gravity.

Some humour is injected into the performance as well, particularly in one scene where Wang and Faye breakdance in stilettos in a deliberately awkward fashion. This helped to offset some sobering concepts, such as any human interaction is better being left in complete solitude - even if that interaction is abusive.

Ultimately, the performance was a successful experiment, with much of the audience giving the company a standing ovation. The performers responded by giving a lively encore - much to the delight of the audience. Wang and Ramirez indicated that they will be returning with a new production in the future, and they will continue to explore the use of rigging in their performances.

Borderline was at the National Arts Centre's Asper Theatre on November 7 and November 8, 2018. To check out upcoming events at the NAC, go to https://nac-cna.ca/en/.

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From This Author Courtney Castelino

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