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Jessica Lang Dance

By Tresca Weinstein

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

Doris Duke Theater

Becket, MA
July 25–29, 2012

 

With a long list of commissioned works to her name, as well as a stint dancing with Twyla Tharp, Jessica Lang finally has a canvas of her own to work on. Lang, whose New York City–based troupe made its full-company debut at Jacob’s Pillow on July 25, is a master of visual composition. It’s easy to imagine her sketching as she choreographs, or carefully arranging her dancers one by one, like a photographer or a still-life painter.

In Lang’s case, of course, it’s moving life. Lines Cubed, one of two ensemble works the company performed at the Pillow, looks like the physical embodiment of a Mondrian color-block painting. The clever set design (on which Lang collaborated with Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen) divides the stage and backdrop into panels of white and primary color. Lang organizes the dance in a similarly crisp fashion, with each section marked by the hue of the lighting and costumes.

 

 

Lines Cubed. Photo by Taylor Crichton, courtesy Jacob's Pillow.

 

In the first, “Black,” the dancers form intersecting lines and neat squares and then quickly change them up, traveling to the next pattern in trajectories of leaps and turns. Petite whirlwind Kana Kimura is the still center of “Red,” with four men (Clifton Brown, Thomas Garrett, Kirk Henning, and Milan Misko) lifting, carrying, and jumping around her. Next, three women in yellow (Julie Fiorenza, Laura Mead, and Maggie Small) frolic and gambol across the stage with smiles on their faces, followed by a trio of melancholy duets drenched in (what else?) blue. The electronic score, by John Metcalfe and Thomas Metcalf, deftly follows the shifting moods. As she tends to do, Lang draws the piece to a close with a picture-perfect tableau: a symmetrical arrangement of the full ensemble, each color represented.

 

 

Julie Fiorenza and Kirk Henning in From Foreign Lands and People.

Photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow.

 

In From Foreign Lands and People, five square pillars serve as the elegant, minimalist structure around which Lang constructs a buoyant dance. The dancers rearrange and play with the set pieces as if they were giant Legos—running across them, climbing up and sliding down them, hiding behind and hanging off them. The piece is set to Schumann piano, performed live at the Pillow by Taka Kigawa.

Lang fleshed out the program with three less ambitious works. Kanji Segawa’s series of energetic leaps and turns in Solo Bach comes off like an improv exercise; he moves with an easy, bouncy grace, but Lang could have given him something more interesting to do. In the romantic duet Among the Stars, a long swath of translucent fabric serves to both divide and connect the dancers (Maggie Small and Brown). Sometimes it’s a river that they lean precariously across to reach each other, sometimes a pathway that draws them closer. The short solo The Calling also uses fabric as an integral element: Kimura’s ultra-maxidress pools around her, isolating her in a circle of white cloth as she stretches and undulates. The image of her bare back and arms emerging from the column of white is one that will stick for a while, as so many of Lang’s images do.

 

 

Kana Kimura in The Calling. Photo by Taylor Crichton, courtesy Jacob's Pillow.


Pictured at top: Kanji Segawa in Solo Bach.

Photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow.