Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez inhabit a universe all their own—one where opposites attract; where classical and street come together. Bridging the graceful momentum of a balletic extension and the rhythmic speed of breakdancing, this duo knows that when you break the rules, good things can happen.
That's the foundation of the Berlin-based COMPANY WANG RAMIREZ. The couple (both on stage and off) blends the classical training of Wang, whose heritage is German and Korean, with the hip-hop styles of Ramirez, whose heritage is Spanish and French, combining their experiences to transcend labels.
In its first American Dance Festival appearance, the duo gives the U.S. premiere of 2011's Monchichi, which incorporates diverse styles from hip-hop and contemporary dance in a quest for identity, both as individuals and as a performance duo.
"Identity is the base [of Monchichi]," Wang says, "and we develop the choreography from our base." The couple performs side-by-side and solo, transitioning from one set of characters to the next in a sequence of scenes that illustrate the struggle for modern love. With each shift of the lighting, the dancers enter another story; another time and place. The concept is harmony in passion and discord in stillness. Just as the boundaries that differentiate genres melt away, so do the labels that define love.
The piece doesn't just highlight the dancers' differences—it celebrates them. Wang says the goal is "to explore each other's dance languages and find the balance, harmony and honesty through our differences." They dance the journey of getting to know another person, discovering his or her strengths and weaknesses and growing through that challenge. —Zoë Gonzales
If you're Israeli-born and served as a soldier in the Israeli Army, would you title a signature dance with its Arabic name? If you're Zvi Gotheiner, artistic director of ZVIDANCE, the answer is yes.
At ADF, Gotheiner presents his contemporary interpretation of dabke, a Middle Eastern line dance that is often performed at weddings, community celebrations and holidays. In Israel, the dance is known as debka.
The 63-year-old Gotheiner trained as a violinist as a child, but found himself compelled to become a dancer by 17. His parents were part of the Zionist movement, which developed new dances and songs that drew on local traditions of Arabic origin. Raised on a kibbutz in northern Israel, Gotheiner watched people dance in a circle on Friday nights, holding each other's hands or shoulders. He found it mesmerizing.
In Dabke, Gotheiner wanted to get beyond the context of viewing Arabs or Muslims as terrorists. He's more interested in the unifying energy of the dance. He says that in Palestine, it's an expression of resistance. In Israel, it symbolizes a return to the homeland. In Lebanon and Syria, it's the national dance.
"Each one calls it their own dance," he says, "and they're all doing the same thing."
Gotheiner got the idea for the piece while visiting Stockholm. At a Lebanese restaurant, his boyfriend became friendly with the owner, and the two talked about dabke. Then the owner put on music and the pair began to dance as patrons clapped.
Later, Gotheiner says, he watched hundreds, perhaps thousands, of YouTube videos. The dance is intoxicating, he says, because of "the slow progression of the line" and how the dancers "almost ooze into each other." The music can put you into a trance.
"It's a fantastic way of coming together," he says.
Though dabke is traditionally performed only by men, Gotheiner's interpretation includes women, as befits an energetic dance (the literal meaning is "stomping the ground") designed to bring people together. Don't be surprised if the audience winds up holding hands, too, and spilling out into the aisles. —Linda Haac
This article appeared in print with the headline "Against the rules."