Monchichi @ BAM
Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez, of Wang Ramirez, are often presented as cross-cultural navigators, both in their performance styles and in their personal lives. Wang is a Korean-German dancer with training in martial arts, ballet, and hip-hop, while Ramirez is a French-Spanish B-boy. From the start of their hour-long duet Monchichi, presented at BAM October 12-15, however, these compartments break down as Wang makes her way across the stage, a rush of water rather than the embodiment of any determinate style. Monchichi draws these definitions — of dance, ethnicity, and nationality — only to smudge them.
Monchichi begins to beats and bird songs. The stage is bare except for a tree. Scene by scene, this blank slate becomes populated by the remnants of a number of onstage costume changes and the glints and flares of colorful lighting.
Rather than a narrative, the work reads as an ongoing coming-to-terms with Wang and Ramirez’ relationship, both with each other and with the spaces they inhabit. For me, this work is predominantly about Wang, then Ramirez. She walks, wading through him as he rolls through her legs. She dances, he jumps directly into her face. Even a sequence of viscous waves, where the two appear completely connected, is subtly interrupted by a moment of her quivering. It’s in these moments that the work’s subtleties radiate and the piece can function as poetry.
I still struggle to find the language to describe myself–the offspring of my mother, a Vietnamese refugee, and my father, a Mennonite descendant–at a time when so much of the language of identity politics has been given to me, but remains insufficient. I was looking to Monchichi to touch on any language that lies beyond the academic, colonial, and Facebook clickbait rhetorics that have yet to describe my understanding of my own mixedness. In seeking to reconnect to a culture that I’ve been alienated from by water, imperialism, and assimilation, I often find myself facing traditionalist representations of Vietnamese culture, and very few to speak on behalf of people like me. The Vietnam War, lion dancing, and pho are the predominant access points for me to my mother’s culture. No doubt this is a limited scope and is certainly in part my own fault, but my culture is not one that is neatly defined by what is “authentic” or “purely” Vietnamese; it is a culture of confusion and composites. The multi-ethnic culture is a blur of traditionalist representations met by assumptions and declarations of strangers, mainly regarding what they think we are or should be. Monchichi provides an elaborate inclusion of the languages of racist caricature, met by motion as the unspeakable and indefinable of the transnational experience.
Monchichi calls out the perpetrators. The artists declare their fragments openly. Ramirez recounts from Wang’s point of view the story about her neighbor in Germany denying her name, instead telling her that he will call her Monchichi. “He said this name fits better to me.” A pair of silver heels is flung onstage and Wang reluctantly puts them on, wavering in her steps before nimbly tumbling into a break-dancing sequence. After, she replaces her plain white t-shirt with the heels, a dress, and blonde wig that have subsequently been tossed onto the stage preparing her for the seductive/coy tango that follows. Here, there is an ongoing tension and hesitation, sensual but hesitant. A softness met by crackling.
Scenes of multilingual bickering occur. What is the correct way to say “shoes”? Tennis shoes? A statement given in Chinese by Ramirez is followed by Wang’s caricature of asian-sounding language and movement until she gives out a, “I am not Chinese!” It’s these obvious repetitions of an “East meets West” rhetoric that make it hard to tell if they are being too opaque in their criticisms, perpetuating the limits and confines of language and systems of naming that have been imposed on them. Indeed, at one point, the couple stands at the front of the stage and speaks over each other about themselves. At once, out of the jumble of words and languages, they declare, “She’s Korean,” “I’m German.” Their fracturing is simultaneously acknowledged and oversimplified by each other. Then again, we name ourselves according to the structures we’ve been given, and that in itself is a part of the process of coming to know ourselves.
Company Wang Ramirez
Conception and choreography by Company Wang Ramirez
Dramaturgy by Vincent Rafis
Lighting design by Cyril Mulon
Set design by Ida Ravn
Costumes by Honji Wang
Music by Ilia Koutchoukov aka Everydayz /+∞
Arrangements by Fabien Biron
Additional music by Carlos Gardel, Alva Noto, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis