Berlin – based dancer-choreographers Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez are partners onstage and off and their company Wang Ramirez has earned them not only accolades, including the Bessie Award, and wide commercial appeal in part due to their arena-edge choreography for Madonna’s ‘Rebel Heart’ tour in 2015. The couple wrapped up their own US tour this winter with performances of ‘Borderline’ in its West Coast premiere run at Berkeley (check David E. Moreno on CultureVulture.net) which was cast with 11 dancers and aerialists. Then, their final stop in Philadelphia for performances of “Monchichi” a signature duet at NextMOVE Dance at the Prince Theater.
“Monchichi” explores a specific time in their creative process and a witty and wry memoir of their relationship. The piece is intimate and wry without being self-conscious. Honji Wang is Korean-German heritage and Sebastien Ramirez of French-Spanish their and their aesthetic might fall in the hip-hop category but that would be a misnomer, their expansive fusion incorporates martial arts, balletic lyricism and urban(e) vocabulary. They have a quality of a borderless, liberated aesthetic.
So when they start bickering in the middle of the piece, with Sebastien’s back out after a lift hurt and bends over Honji massages his back, you don’t know if he actual did or it is a re-enactment. Tricks are not leaned on, but weaved into an ambitious theatrical arc. Some of the more daring dance moves included Ramirez hurling himself around Wang’s neck and she bends all the way back to the floor.
Meanwhile, there is also a lot of physical comedy after he strolls of and throws silver high heels onstage and Wang changes into pale blue mod mini and blunt blonde wig. wobbly at first, and in seconds she is House of Extravaganza stomping the runway with them and then writes some new hip-hop and break moves and low sprung vaults. Wang’s lyricism is hypnotic, with wave moves punctuated with locks and reverse phrases. Both dancers sustain precision and dance immediacy that leaves room for performance improv with a lucid narrative arc.
Wang mocks what Western countries stereotype all Asian people from different countries into one identity and culture. “I’m not Chinese!” yells, after firing off the things that would identify Asian people in a house of vaudeville a century ago. Opens with a solo stating her choreographic turf and Sébastien follows suit.
Individual eloquence nevertheless leads to hilarious creative frustration as they start bickering back and forth about cultures simultaneously in German, French, Korean, English and Spanish. Everything circles back to romantic and mystical scenes de actione and their chemistry draws you closer into who they are personally and equally adventurous and joyously liberated their choreographic voice is.
The piece features a beautifully spare set design by Ida Ravn of a skeletal tree with pulsing veins and red points of light in tandem with the dramatic lighting designs by Cyril Mulon. Equally dynamic is the ambient music by composer Ilia Koutchoukov aka Everydayz and cinematic in the best sense, with track mixes by Carlos Gardel, Alva Noto, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
NextMOVE artistic director Randy Swartz has already curated a diverse season mostly with larger troupes who have strong followings in Philadelphia, so it is great to see the strong turnout for Wang Ramirez’s first appearance in Philly performing their signature duet.