As Honji Wang climbs the body of her partner Sébastien Ramirez during the final few moments of the pair’s performance in “Borderline,” she does so using only her feet. Entirely parallel to the ground below her, she seems to float towards the sky in ethereal white silk.
“Borderline,” choreographed by Ramirez and Wang, finished two shows at Zellerbach Hall on Saturday and Sunday through Cal Performances. The show, featuring performances by Ramirez, Wang, Louis Becker, Johanna Faye, Saïdo Lehlouh and Alister Mazzotti, intricately explored connections between the dancers, their space, outside forces and one another.
The 70-minute dance, created in 2013, features two large cube skeletons which the dancers manipulate as part of their spectacle. Throughout the show, the cubes act as cages, stages and audiences as the dancers take control of their space. At times, the dancers all hang on the cubes to watch one another. At others, Faye pushes the cubes in violent rage — complicating the audience’s impression of the objects as at once malleable and oppressive.
As an exploration, “Borderline” operates in liminal space. The beauty of the show is found in the space in between, in between light and dark, control and submission, freedom and restriction, masculinity and femininity.
Right from its opening sequence, the show makes use of its central rigging system, which allows the dancers to fly through the air. As Faye and Wang work strenuously to run towards a grey box, they are constantly pulled back by a force off stage. While initially unidentified, this force is later personified in Mazzotti, dressed in all black and holding the other end of the rope.
Here, the women are put in competition, pushing each other aside in a desperate attempt to reach their goal. Later, however, Wang supports Faye, holding Faye in her lap and guiding her, in a different, nurturing kind of female relationship.
Through pointed choreography, at certain moments the dancers appear able to control the music and seamlessly glide and lift to new heights with the help of the rigging system. At other times, the rigs only serve to restrict the dancers, to force the dancers to masterfully work against these constraints through their movements.
Even when not controlled by the subtle rigs, the dancers remain intrinsically connected. When Becker and Lehlouh dance, they appear rigged to each other. Every move they make is entirely codependent as they grip one another’s arms or legs to maintain a tangible connection. Their dance is breathtakingly fluid. It’s effortless, granting the audience the illusion of rigging even in its absence.
The music, created by Jean-Philippe Barrios — also known as lacrymoboy — parallels the dance beat by beat with its experimental, electronic tonation and strong cultural influences. While the consistent use of percussive beats lends itself nicely to the show’s hip-hop elements, the use of spoken word in various languages contribute to its more theatrical elements.
The piece transitions seamlessly from moments of heady depth to light, breathable moments of comedy. One of the most striking aspects of the piece is a gravity-defying solo by Ramirez. During the dance, he and the cube seem to move as if pieces of the same whole — the pair toying with the limits of reality.
Lehlouh shines during the entire performance as both a talented dancer and a charismatic presence, providing the piece both its comedic relief and effortlessly smooth movement. As the most fleshed-out of all the characters — the sole performer who tells jokes and has his own monologue — he garners special attention whenever he is on the stage.
In an utterly compelling moment, Wang and Faye walk out in four-inch heels and skirts, leaning far back and leading with their pelvises. Embracing the limitations of high heels, the pair made use of the floor space in a routine reminiscent of traditional breakdancing, emphasizing their arms over their legs. Dressed traditionally feminine but with a comically exaggerated masculine walk, the women subverted all expectations as they graced the stage once more.
Within the final scene, Wang is torn between the physical power of Ramirez and the mysterious force of Mazzotti. When Wang and Ramirez dance together, Ramirez struggles to contain Wang as she is continually pulled up or back by Mazzotti, who is standing stage right, holding the other end of her rope in his hand. With a final pull, Mazzotti yanks Wang away from Ramirez. In a shock of light, she disappears upstage.
Wang operates throughout “Borderline” as an incredibly strong and commanding presence. Even when not dancing, her watchful gaze over the performance is even more penetrating than the actions of Mazzotti. However, in these final moments, even the strongest figure on the stage is not able to break free completely from what binds her. She finishes her performance shrouded in darkness, lost in the space inbetween.
“Borderline” relishes in the risks and rewards of life on the edge and the space in between. Wang and Ramirez created a piece that is unmistakably exceptional — one that walks the borderline between connection and repression so gracefully, the viewer never expects the performance to falter.
Contact Kate Tinney at [email protected].