BWW Reviews: JESSICA LANG DANCE Mixes Movement with Graphic Elements
Although Jessica Lang Dance was founded in 2011, Artistic Director Jessica Lang is no newcomer to the dance scene. Lang, a disciple of Twyla Tharp, is on the faculty of American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and has been an active choreographer since 1999. Lang's signature style marries classical movements with a "striking design element." This theme played out through Jessica Lang Dance's performance at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, an evening co-presented with Washington Performing Arts and City Dance. The graphic component in particular was inconsistent throughout the evening and did not always further Lang's artistic vision.
Lines Cubed incorporated design seamlessly into the work. Inspired by the work of Piet Mondrian, each movement of the work was devoted to a color found in the signature paintings, featuring red, yellow, blue, and black lines. The black dancers moved stiffly and often moved together, connected as a line. The yellow dancers embodied joy and sunshine through quick footwork, jumps and skipping. An emotional pas de deux represented blue. Red, however, was difficult to distinguish from Black. Red's main dancer Kana Kimura, began to round out some movements instead of remaining completely stiff but did not personify a distinct emotion or idea. The work was visually striking, as the dancers interacted with the Mondrian grid inspired set by adding colors or moving the black lines across the stage. While dated electronica music, featured in three of the movements, was distracting, Lines Cubed was bold and entertaining.
The Calling, an expert from Splendid Isolation II, and i.n.k. both managed to successfully incorporate their visual elements. The Calling channeled Martha Graham by featuring Kimura in huge skirt enveloping her legs in a sea of white fabric. She twisted, pliéed, and bended within her sartorial limitations. The short length of the piece allowed the audience to become emotionally involved without repeating itself and turning into a cliché. i.n.k. featured a video set of ink and water droplets. Lang's use of the video actively contributed to the piece by both allowing the dancers to interact with the droplets and by using the video to amplify tension found in the choreography.
Unfortunately, not all of Lang's efforts were successful. Among the Stars used a long bolt of white fabric that rarely contributed to the choreography and remained a gimmick. In fact, the dancers, Laura Mead and Kirk Henning, mostly danced on top of the fabric instead of with the fabric. Among the Stars would have been more successful as a stand-alone pas de deux without the fabric pulling focus. White was made up by a video of Lang dancers that manipulated the film of each individual dancer by slowing down and speeding up their movements. While White was in intriguing piece of video art, it lacked any live performance elements and would have been more at home in an art gallery.
One of the most interesting works of the night was Mendelsohn/Incomplete, which did not feature any external graphic piece. Lang channels Paul Taylor with this ensemble piece. The dancers movements were organic and interesting. The choreography stood on its own without any gimmick or visual element needed.
While design elements can greatly add to a work, it can also profoundly distract the audience and should be used judiciously. As Jessica Lang Dance matures as a company, it would be best served to have faith in the strength of Lang's choreography to stand alone.