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Saturday, November 17 , 2018, 5:05 pm | Fair with Haze 64º

 
 
 
 

Review: France’s Wang Ramirez Sends Hip-Hop Aloft

Wang Ramirez Click to view larger
Wang Ramirez brought hip-hop aerial dance to The Granada Theatre stage Saturday night. (Frank Szafinski photo)

Dance audiences suspend the need for explicit narrative, allowing pure movement aesthetics and emotion to stand on their own. When the movement is as breathtaking as what Wang Ramirez shared on The Granada Theatre stage Saturday night, it’s easy to let go of needing a story.

One of three French ensembles on the UCSB Arts & Lectures dance series this year, Wang Ramirez is billed as hip-hop aerial dance, so prospects were wide open.

The lights barely came up on a 7-foot cubic metal structure hovering several feet off the ground.

Artistic directors Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez appeared in street clothes. Their pedestrian actions twinkled when weightlessness and spongey-bungee flight came into play.

Another cube appeared, and the two pieces transformed into classrooms, cages, a prison and a playground on which the dancers defied gravity, climbed sideways and teetered on a corner while the cube tipped diagonally.

The artistic directors were joined by virtuosic b-boys Louis Becker and Saïdo Lehlouh and Johanna Faye, who started dancing in their late teens or around 20. Their grace, flexibility and command of various styles belie dance upbringings in street dance competitions.

A sixth character, rigger Allister Mazzotti, covered in black except for his head, was sporadically present on stage and controlled scenic elements and flight-rigging. He pulled ropes down while, across the stage, a dancer lifted off the ground. He pulled a seated Wang across the floor from behind so she looked like she was on a conveyor belt.

The dancers were buoyed, dragged and launched into flight wearing rock-climbing harnesses and ropes. The effects were used enough to thrill, but not so much that it became a schtick.

Wang Ramirez’s unique lexicon blends breakdancing and sharp, street-inspired isolations with balletic lyricism, flowy spins with gymnastic pauses and marital arts with prayer.

Swift arm movements and subtle gesticulation create a language of their own. Hands swoop around heads, and a chin is cupped in a palm and turned to the side.

Mind-boggling duets and trios explored weight, balance and collaboration in totally fresh and amazing partnering.

The two female dancers took the stage in 6-inch stilettoes that shifted their weight. They could lean so far back while walking and dancing that I thought they were attached to wires, but no.

In short pleated skirts and T-shirts, they performed in graceful unison, witty moves and startling changes in level, from inverted floor work to balletic turns in their nearly-toe-shoe pumps.

One of the men in a trio was pushed, tipped, tripped and spun by the other two. Then he was alone. Suddenly, the other dancers surrounded him in white stretchy, floor-length skirts that fully encased their lower bodies.

In the new attire, street moves and spins transcended gravity and human form. Angels came to mind. The lone man out appeared in white as well.

The company danced in unison, in counterpoint and in succession until our protagonist lost his skirt and returned to ordinary.

The show closed, as it opened, with a duet by Wang and Ramirez. In her white dress, Wang flew to him — literally — was pulled away, clung, let go and was aloft. Ramirez was earthbound throughout.

Anyone who has loved could grasp the separateness, union, melding and letting go of which the dance spoke.

At a post-performance Q&A, Wang answered a student’s question about freedom with insight that comes only from pushing both boundaries and self: “I find my freedom in a cage; when you’re totally free, you get lost.”

I can’t wait to see what France will send to us next when Compagnie Käfig performs “Pixel” on Nov. 13.

Noozhawk contributor and local arts critic Judith Smith-Meyer is a round-the-clock appreciator of the creative act. She can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are her own.

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