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Jessica Lang Dance triumphal at Dance Celebration

by Lewis J Whittington
March 30, 2015
Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
3680 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
215 898 3900
Choreographer Jessica Lang grew up in Doylestown PA, and got her start as a dancer-choreographer in Philadelphia. For the last 16 years, she has choreographed more than 80 works for companies all over the world, and has received many awards, including the 2013 Bessie. Lang started Jessica Lang Dance in 2011 and this month, brought them to Philly for their first appearance at Dance Celebration, March 19-21, at the Annenberg Center.

The troupe's appearance proved a highlight in an altogether electric season programmed by Dance Celebration artistic director Randy Swartz, which has featured mainly international companies.

At the opening performance on March 19 Lang was introduced by Swartz and she told the audience how appreciative she was for the reception to her company and that it indeed felt like a homecoming for her. Her troupe of ten dancers showcased Lang's expansive artistic dance template and her salient stage composition with a sampler of six works. You got the sense that this was just a preview of a very prolific choreographic master.

"Lines Cubed" was built out of dancers as architectural body studies set to an industrial score by John Metcalf and Thomas Metcalfe that engulfed the action like a soundtrack to a thriller. The dancers seemed to recalibrate their positions with the repeated sound of a piano wires being hammered.

The dancers were grouped in red, yellow, blue or black outfits signaling disparate choreographic moods. The ensemble locked in squared or sharply angled shapes got more dizzying. In the process, Lang delineated clean balletic lines - classic, progressive and deconstructed - evolving in her striking stage visual of morphing accordion piping looking like a geometric schematic.
 
The end section struck as ponderous in the arc of the long form piece but the ideas and attack of the dancers with this material made it a stunner.  

"Mendelssohn/Incomplete" for six dancers, indeed does look like a middle draft of a larger work. It is set to the Tranquillo movement, performed by Gould Piano Trio of Mendelssohn's Concerto No. 1 inspiring lyrical expressionism by Lang, but is also curiously choreographically spare. The couples chasse and petit jumps are pretty, but don't go anywhere. Lang starts to mix it up with some group configurations, but only briefly.

In contrast, 'Among the Stars' with music by Ryuichi Sakamoto was a riveting duet danced by Laura Mead and Clifton Brown. Mead in stunned in a structured raw silk dress with a train that unspooled as she piqued across the stage, while Brown held the other end. It became an allegory for their relationship as they leaped over its borders, gathered it around them or released it in the air, their story punctuated by Lang's unique lift patterns and releases that flowed naturally and danced with precision and subtlety.

Fabric also figured into "The Calling," a solo scored to the music of Trio Mediaeval. Kana Kimora was dressed in a form fitting off white gown that fanned out on a wide circle. At points she seemed both free and trapped in it. She seemed to sink into the floor at one point as if disintegrating.

"White: a dance on film" by Lang and director of photography Shinichi Maruyama had the ensemble projected on screen and moving sometimes in slow motion on turns and jumps showing Lang's and the dancers' polish. They were just as wily in funny gestures contained in a speeded up section that was hilarious looking like Buster Keaton meets contemporary ballet.

'I.N.K' at first seemed connected to "White," as a dancer dressed in black togs was suddenly crouched before the blank screen as huge splash of ink started to be projected on across it. The liquidly soundtrack by composer Jakub Ciupinski cued other dancers to enter the scene, some in a scuttling crouch march, others moved with slithery and rippling bodies. The piece just pulsed with abstract movement phrasing that looked like reverse dance combinations with Lang creating sculptural shapes in motion. A male-female duet broke out downstage that seemed to be floating an intense relationship, but ultimately, this was a decidedly cryptic mis-en-scene.

Lang seems to have some false endings and like "Cubed Line," the arc of the piece seemed less in focus. Still, Lang's edginess and whimsy goes a long way in building its own dynamic dance-scape.

The audience's lusty applause for the conviction and esprit of these dancers sent the clear message that they hope to see them back on this stage again soon.
Jessica Lang Dance performing The Calling (excerpt from Splendid Isolation II).

Jessica Lang Dance performing The Calling (excerpt from Splendid Isolation II).

Photo © & courtesy of Takao Komaru

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