Jukly 15, 2015 performance reviewed by Iler McGrath.
Company Wang Ramirez made their Jacob’s Pillow debut on Wednesday night with the evening-length work Monchichi. Sebastién Ramirez, a Frenchman with Spanish roots, and Honji Wang, a German woman of Korean descent, are easy to watch onstage, and the duet they have created has many pleasantly surprising moments. The production included an incongruous LED-lit tree designed by Ida Ravn, a score of hip-hop beats by Ilia Koutchoukov (aka Everydayz/+?), and was adequately – if heavy-handedly – lit by Cyril Mulon.
The program notes suggest that this company sees their approach to movement as a fusion of hip-hop and contemporary influences, however for the most part this piece was dominated by b-boy style hip-hop movement. Mr. Ramirez is a self-taught b-boy, while Ms. Wang trained in ballet and martial arts before transitioning into urban dance. It often seemed like she was holding back in order to better match the more limited, though virtuosic, movement vocabulary of her partner.
There were moments of partnering that stood out as the inventive highlights of the piece, bringing much-needed novelty and excitement to the work. However, for the most part contact was limited to the hands, which were used to manipulate the other performer in complex series of hip-hop isolations, giving the effect that the two were not dancing together but rather against or despite one another. Overall there was far less creative range than could be hoped for movement-wise from a fusion style of choreography.
This is not only a dance piece though, but a work of what Wang and Ramirez have coined “urban tanztheater.” As such, Monchichi features spoken word elements, costume changes onstage, and choreography which has the dancers regularly break the fourth wall to gaze purposefully toward the audience. As dance historian Maura Keefe notes in the program “dance writer Norbert Servos defines tanztheater as ‘the union of genuine dance and theatrical methods of stage performance, creating a new, unique dance form (especially in Germany), which, in contrast to classical ballet, distinguishes itself through an intended reference to reality.”
In this case, that reference is autobiographical in nature, exploring the intricacies and nuances of a multicultural relationship. There is high potential for dramatic tension here, much of which remains undiscovered in this piece. There is a Pina-esque section in which the duo addresses the audiences while cycling through six languages between the two of them, however they never speak to one another directly, relying on dance to interact. This is in keeping with their statement that movement is a universal language through which they communicate with one another, but instead of synthesizing the various elements of the production this approach reduces the narrative to “boy meets girl, they six-step.” What’s missing is a sense of emotional stakes, of love strong enough to surpass external differences and bond two people together. The choreographers’ note finishes with the cryptic question, in bold, “Our love. Our psychosis?” but by the time the work finished in just under an hour the presence of either of those extremes was nowhere to be found.
Jacob’s Pillow tickets and directions
- Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
- 358 George Carter Road
- Becket, MA 01223
- Phone: 413.243.9919
- Web: jacobspillow.org
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