Jessica Lang Dance triumphal at Dance Celebration

JLD lines cubed
Lang’s architecture in ‘Lines Cubed’

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 Dance Celebration 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 of a four performance run March 19, Lang was introduced by Swartz and she told the audience how appreciative she was for the reception to her company 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 get the sense that this is just a preview of a very prolific choreographic master.

‘Lines Cubed’ builds out of dancers as architectural body studies set to an industrial score by John Metcalf and Thomas Metcalfe, which engulfs the action like a soundtrack to a thriller. The dancers seem to recalibrate their positions with the repeated sound of a piano wires being hammered.

The dancers are grouped in red, yellow, blue or black outfits signal disparate choreographic moods. The ensemble locks in squared or sharply angled shapes get more dizzying and in the process, Lang delineates clean balletic lines -classic, progressive and deconstructed- evolving in her striking stage visual of morphing accordion piping, like a geometric schematic.

The end section strikes as ponderous in the arc of the long form piece. But, the ideas and attack of these dancers with this material makes 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 is a riveting duet danced by Laura Mead and Clifton Brown. Mead in a drop-dead structured raw silk dress with a train that unspools as she piques across the stage, while Brown holds the other end. It becomes an allegory for their relationship as they leap over its borders, gather it around them or release it in the air, their story punctuated by Lang’s unique lift patterns and releases that flow naturally, danced with precision and subtlety.

Fabric also figures in ‘The Calling’ a solo scored to the ariatic elegies of Trio Mediaeval. Kana Kimora is dressed in a form fitting off white gown that fans out on a wide circle. At points she seemed both free and trapped in it, or disintegrating (she seems to sink into the floor at one point) or in gorgeous sculptural torso-scapes that suddenly become pained. 

‘White: a dance on film’ by Lang and director of photography Shinichi Maruyama has the ensemble projected on screen and moving sometimes in slow motion on turns and jumps showing Lang’s and the dancers polish, but they are just as wily in funny gestures the speeded up section is hilarious Buster Keaton meets modern ballet

‘I.N.K’ at first seemed connected to the dance on film, as a dancer dressed in black togs is suddenly crouched before the blank screen as huge splash of ink starts to be projected on across it. The liquidly soundtrack cues other dancers to enter the scene, some in a scuttling crouch march, others moving with slithery and rippling bodies. The piece just pulses with abstract movement, of the phrasing looking like reverse dance combinations and again Lang creating sculptural shapes in motion. A male-female duet breaks out downstage that seems to be floating an intense relationship, but ultimately, this is decidedly cryptic mis-en-scene.

Lang seems to have some false ending and like Cubed Line, the arc of the piece seems less in focus than the back half. Still, Lang’s edginess and whimsy, side by side, 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.