On Oct. 14, leading dance duo Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez blew away audience members at the Granada Theatre as they brought their modern dance troupe, Company Wang Ramirez, to Santa Barbara. As part of a tour that will span Europe, Canada, and the United States, the Santa Barbara show featured Company Wang Ramirez performing “Borderline,” a stunningly choreographed dance performance that makes innovative use of aerial rigging, lighting, and electronic music.
“Borderline” consists of six vignettes, each meant to function as a dialogue about the complexity of human relationships, especially in the modern age. Wang and Ramirez, who both serve as the creative directors of Company Wang Ramirez, first choreographed the piece in 2013. The dance company was formed in Perpignan, France in 2007, and features a cast of dancers who are predominantly French — with the notable exception of Honji Wang, who was born in Germany to Korean parents.
Performed by six dancers, “Borderline” features five main performers and one aerial rigger. The cast of performers at the Granada was made up of two female dancers, Wang and Johanna Faye, and three male dancers, Ramirez, Louis Becker, and Saido Lehlouh. Alister Mazzotti provided aerial rigging support. The dancers are shuffled into different pairings that are meant to evoke different relationships, and dance to an electric, hip-hop soundtrack that alternates between thumping percussive beats and softer instrumental music.
On Saturday night, the stage of the Granada was transformed into a dark landscape, illuminated only by a single prop: a lightweight cage-like apparatus that served as a visual anchor for the audience. “Borderline” is a minimalist piece, and so large sections of it take place in shadows.
This artistic choice allows the glimmers of light and color that do appear in the show — mainly costumes and lights — to stand out all the more clearly. The piece itself begins with a stunning visual contrast, as the dark, unlit stage transforms when Wang whirls onto the stage, wearing a traditionally Asian costume that contains sweeping, lustrous color.
For most of the performance, the dancers wore everyday clothes (jeans and t-shirts), which made a few carefully chosen wardrobe moments, like the one above, stand out all the more. Wang and Ramirez alone are able to claim Korean, French, and Spanish ethnic heritage, so cultural influences are a huge part of “Borderline.”
Even the untrained ear can pick out hints of Asian and Spanish influence in the performance’s musical score, and included on the soundtrack are several voiceovers, including one from Chung-Won Wang (Wang’s father) and one from Henri Ramirez (Ramirez’s father).
With “Borderline,” Wang and Ramirez — hailed by the L’Indépendant as dancers on the “frontlines” of the “contemporary dance revolution” — have created a performance that would not have been possible before the age of modern technology. Simply put, it’s unlikely that “Borderline” would exist if it weren’t for Mazzotti’s rigging work, LACRYMOBOY’s music, or Cyril Mulon’s lighting.
For me, the most stunning section of the performance was the finale, which featured Wang and Ramirez on stage, supported by Mazzotti. In addition to being co-creative directors of the company, Wang and Ramirez have also been romantically involved for over a decade. Their potent connection enhanced and completed the performance perfectly.
The finale marked the first and only time in the night that the couple performed alone, and when they shared the stage, the audience had the chance to witness what is perhaps the most beautiful relationship to come out of “Borderline”: that of a couple separated by geographical and ethnic divides, using their shared love of dance to come together and create a body of artistic work that has defined their personal and professional lives, and changed their viewers’ for the better.