Sunday, October 30, 2016

Jessica Lang Dance at The Playhouse

DanceHouse's 2016/17 season launched this past weekend with the Vancouver premiere of Jessica Lang Dance. Not to be confused with the American actress of American Horror Story fame, Lang is a New York-based choreographer (and former Twyla Tharp dancer) who established her eponymous company in 2011 and has since been gaining international notice, having been most recently commissioned by American Ballet Theatre.

For her Vancouver visit Lang offered audiences a mixed repertoire of five pieces. The first was Lines Cubed, from 2012, a Mondrian-like riff on pathways through space that was made up of four colour-coded sections--black, red, yellow, and blue--plus a concluding coda that brought all the different patterns (grids, circles and spirals) together. It was an interesting conceit and the steps were well-executed but I was never emotionally invested. It also felt to me that if Lang was going to be so rigorously formal in her conception of the piece then she shouldn't have introduced dancers in black into the duet she had constructed for the blue section. I get that they were meant to be impediments to the successful completion of the duet, but the unfurling and furling back up of the black crepe paper on stage struck me as altogether unnecessary.

The Calling was a short excerpt from Lang's Splendid Isolation II (2006); it featured company member Julie Fiorenza sheathed in an elegant white dress, the extended length of which spilled about her like flower petals or a rippling moonlit pond on the stage. Working on pointe (I'm assuming), Fiorenza would rise vertically and then sink down at the knees, an effect that because of the dress momentarily gave the illusion that she was sinking through rather than merely into the floor. The short piece ends with the dancer doing a succession of micro-turns, gathering the dress's material inward around her legs like she is a beautiful butterfly going back into its cocoon. Again, it was pretty to look at but did not really engage me in a profound way.

Things got more interesting in Thousand Yard Stare (2015), which I gather was made in consultation with veterans suffering from PSTD. Lang sends her ensemble out on stage in army fatigues, their slow horizontal march backwards and forwards across the stage in formation every now and then arrested mid-movement when one of the dancers holds a raised leg off the floor. Other canon formations evoke images of soldiers burrowing through tunnels or falling against each other in battle. As fascinated as I was by the different bodily structures of support that Lang seemed to be investigating in the context of war, it struck me that the very precision with which she was creating them worked against the idea that in such situations one cannot possibly know at every moment what to do or how to react.

The fourth piece on the program, White (2011), was actually a film. Overlaying different images of bodies moving through space, and using different film speeds, Lang--working with director of photography Shinichi Maruyama and editors Tetsushi Wakasugi and Jackson Notier--was able to convey a sense of kinaesthetic immersion through this work. It segued seamlessly into the final work on the program: i.n.k. (2011) is another collaboration between Lang and Maruyama and Wakasugi and Notier. As washes and droplets of india ink traverse the upstage screen the dancers interact with them, ducking beneath or jumping over them, for example, and through their additional movement across the stage extending the dance that is also happening on the screen. This last piece was by far the most successful of the evening, but even here the concept felt somewhat programmatic. Lang is clearly a choreographer of abundant ideas; I just wish the work was more emotionally involving.


1 comment:

Jenna Mazur said...

totally agree with all of this. definitely different type of work than Vancouver is used to...