Monchichi has everything you could want from a modern dance performance. A genre-defying, original score, an innovative, vibrant stage and lighting design, a narrative to follow and interpret, and of course breathtaking dance moves — literally breathtaking, the audience audibly gasped several times.
Monchichi is a dance duet performed and choreographed by Honji Wang and Sebastien Ramirez. It integrates hip-hop and break dancing with elements of ballet and martial arts, but that alone isn't a fulfilling description of the vast array of movements and techniques the duo performs. There are times when they seem to be just letting their bodies be fluid, following some internal mechanism beyond thought or training. It's like the movements are a part of their being, inevitable and organic.
The one-hour production has constant forward momentum and the dancing is never quite the same from scene to scene. Sometimes either Wang or Ramirez is dancing solo, other times they may be dancing simultaneously on opposite sides of the stage, other times they'll dance together as partners or seemingly as one organism, dancing in astounding synchronicity. They do seem to defy reality sometimes with their precision and grace.
Like I said, there is a narrative, though not in the way you would say a play has a narrative. Monchichi is filled with evocative moments of sexual tension, isolation, loneliness, misunderstanding, all told through movement and music and lighting. It is a show that stirs the creative juices of the audience, letting us interpret what we're seeing.
That isn't to say there is no dialogue. A couple times Wang and Ramirez bicker with one another or joke. There are nice touches of humor throughout the show. Especially in a scene where they walk to the front of the stage and talk directly to the audience, simultaneously telling personal anecdotes, veering in and out of their native tongues — Korean and German for Wang and French for Ramirez — and English.
The stage is simply designed. There's a white floor, white backdrop, a single white tree like a skeleton planted stage left — all a canvas to be painted by the lighting design. And boy, does it get painted.
From a serene, sky blue to a sharp, deep red, the lighting design constantly changes the stage environment. Sometimes it leaves the performers in silhouette, phantom dancers against a brightly lit backdrop. Other times light from the front of the stage casts their shadows against the backdrop, giant ghosts dancing in concert with the performers. The changing lighting sets the mood for each scene, adding touches to the narrative.
The original score is just that — original. It has elements of ambient hip-hop, with droning synth textures layered over drum patterns, but it also interweaves sophisticated string and piano arrangements, creating a soundscape that is at times upbeat and extremely danceable, and at other times somber and emotive. It too provides insight into the story being told.
Ultimately, Monchichi tells the story of the journey Wang and Ramirez have taken — both separately and together — to get to this point in their lives. It deals with issues like the search for identity, prejudices attached to race, culture, and societal roles, romantic entanglements, and so much more. The emotional depth of this production, paired with the stunning visual and audio experience makes it a must see. Awe-inspiring is not a phrase to be thrown around, but Monchichi certainly is that.