Interview: Borderline - where hip hop meets aerial meets contemporary...

Tuesday 29 September 2015 by Lise Smith

Sébastien Ramirez & Honji Wang - Borderline.
Photo: Agathe Poupeney

This week, Breakin’ Convention presents Sébastien Ramirez & Honji Wang on the main stage at Sadler’s Wells. French dancer and choreographer Ramirez began training and performing in 1995, learning from other b-boys on the French street-dance scene. Lise Smith caught up with him during rehearsals to talk about what we can expect from the gravity-defying show Borderline, created with partner Honji Wang, which combines aerial work and hip hop dance….

When and how did you come up with the idea for Borderline?
We started Borderline about two years ago. The performance evolved further after the premiere and we had maybe ten performances, and after that we had to rework the performance, we had a residency in Mercat [de les Flors] in Barcelona where the performance totally changed and became what it is nowadays. So we have two phases of the performance really – we had to create the performance and then see it, then get some distance from the feeling of it, find the weaker points and good points. Then we had another session in Mercat to really rework the performance – and that’s it!

What inspired you to introduce the aerial work?
I wanted to experiment with the rigging system, the flight system because it’s something I really discovered maybe seven years ago – I got more into the movie industry and I saw they were rigging cameras – and their technical aspects. That gave me an idea – what if we use our bodies with rigging? As hip hop dancers we specialise in using the floor. With this show we always like to define the force centrifuge, and the levitation, being able to change weight and being able to be manipulated, as well in a choreographic way, with a rigger following your movement. I found this particularly interesting, so I decided to bring it to the stage with choreography.

Did this present any unexpected challenges?
For us the technical challenge with this is to be able to tour and to reproduce the same system in every different theatre, considering height and attachment points, because it’s not only mechanical, there’s a rigger who needs to follow the movement precisely so the time of adaptation and rehearsing to get the fine turning between both of us is more the challenge.

Because of the short time that we had for the creation process of Borderline, we could not make not the dancers work with the rigging system – I was the only one using wires with the bungee because we had one more rigging experiment before, so it was the easiest and fastest way for us to work. To use the wires for me, as a b-boy you are always on the floor and you have to be able to handle every movement in every position in order to be stable. So when you use the rigging and wires you enable a situation where you can use the momentum to let your body fly in certain moments and just let it breathe. But it’s not only about the technique of the dance, it’s the aspect of the person pulling the strings of another person – this is another layer which is very interesting for us in the performance of Borderline.

We don’t try to hide the wires – in some points you don’t see them, but that’s not the main topic for us. What’s very interesting is actually this person who plays a role, the rigger, who is pulling the strings and accompanying us into the movement, being part of the relationship between our dance and choreography, between our performers and him [the rigger] in parallel to us.

Breakin’ Convention are presenting Borderline to Sadler’s Wells. How did that come about?
Jonzi D is my friend – over the years we’ve performed at Breakin’ Convention several times at Sadler’s Wells, as part of the annual festival. Borderline needs two days to set up to perform – it wouldn’t work as part of a festival weekend.

I really like Breakin’ Convention, it’s a great event supporting hip hop culture and it keeps moving it forward. All the dancers in the scene are able to see different artworks in one context and one frame, which is good. And very important – it’s a unique thing that they have, for the hip hop community to be in such a great dance house and developing the artwork. I think it’s bringing artists further and it’s very important for the dance community in general. It’s a very, very, very great thing.

What do you think makes a good dancer?
What’s important for me, in choosing a dancer, it’s more about the character than the feat that he does, that I can understand him and catch him. I like to know if the person would bring me the craziness or the emotion that I want, and this is the best thing when you can get dancers like this or when you can have the time to spend with a dancer to understand that and to be able to use it in your work.

Where I come from and my work in dance, I started in 1995 and I started on the street. I was self-taught for many years and then I was battling a lot, battles and competitions are the main things for Hip-hop dancers. This is where I grew my skills and personality and my name on the scene, and later I moved on to showcases where I was very interested in choreographic work and working in a team, and I grew on the competition scene with the showcase, I won several prizes and different events and I was judging a lot of international events like Battle of the Year, [and] the World Championships and I participated in international championships, I won the Red Bull BC One French championship, went to the world championship in South Africa.

What keeps you inspired?
What’s most important to us is always to reach the audience and touch people emotionally. I think it’s not necessary to want to understand a story, because there’s not just one story, there’s not one message. As I’ve said, Borderline is all about flowing emotions. This is my main goal with the work – that it reaches and touches people.

This is our first time performing in London with a bigger production like this, and I’m very excited. Hopefully it will be received well, and people will enjoy the work, and it’s going to be great fun too.

Sébastien Ramirez & Honji Wang – Borderline
Sadler’s Wells Fri 2 & Sat 3 October

Lise Smith is a dance manager and teacher who writes about dance for many publications, including Londonist & Arts Professional. Find her on Twitter: @lisekit

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