Jessica Lang Dance makes their Canadian debut

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Jessica Lang Dance | Dance House

October 28 & 29 | Vancouver Playhouse

Two lines of dancers criss-cross each other in perfect unison, creating bold lines and precise patterns amidst a Mondrian-inspired set. Jessica Lang’s intricate choreography is impressive right from the first moment these dancers take the stage. The five works on this Dance House program demonstrated Lang’s range and immense skill as an artist, and I was blown away by her work. This was the Canadian premiere of New York’s Jessica Lang Dance company, led by Lang who is an accomplished freelance choreographer who works with companies such as American Ballet Theatre and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Lines Cubed

This piece, inspired by Piet Mondrian’s primary hues and bold lines, contained five segments featuring different colours. Black was all sharp, bold lines and harsh music, with patterns mimicking Mondrian’s lines. Paper accordions created a set that was a 3D Mondrian painting that morphed for each segment. The red dancers had softer lines and a smooth, sensual tone, while the yellow segment was bright, cheerful and bouncy with the dancers in short skirts performing sprightly jumps. Blue was a calm, romantic duet in which the female dancer wore a long flowing skirt. The opening choreography repeated at the end, with the entire thing facing the opposite direction. This was like a painting come to life, and I can see why Lang has described herself as a visual artist whose medium is dance.     

The Calling

This short solo has one dancer centre stage, the full skirt of a long cream dress spread around her in a rippling circle. The image is grand, imposing, and once the dancer starts to move the dress creates an optical illusion that makes it seem like she has no legs. As the movement becomes larger, the piece builds and the dress wraps around, the circle becoming smaller on the stage. Only once does the dancer lift the skirt while at the same time lifting her leg in an arabesque, and I wanted to see more of that. I was left with the feeling that this piece could have gone further, could have explored more movements with this massive dress. Other than that is was a simple, beautiful piece set to grand, operatic music, and it left a lasting impression.

Thousand Yard Stare

Dealing with the theme of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, this piece had patterns and lines that reminded me of the choreography in Lines Cubed, but this time the dancers mimicked a military formation and march. The dark theme was contrasted with beautiful Beethoven strings, and this added to the tragic tone. The creative group formations such as the dancers creating a tunnel that they each crawled through were innovative and created a rich tableau of battlefield scenes. Strobe lights and the sound of explosives and ammunition finished off the piece with casualties, and the opening choreography repeated, the curtains closing on their marching formation.

White (A Dance on Film)

The medium of film allows Lang to play with time, tempo, and perspective in this brilliant short piece. It was novel to watch a dance film amidst a live show, and I was impressed by the use of this medium to create very neat effects. Some dancers were sped up, some slowed down, and sometimes both of these at once so a dancer could suspend a jump longer as another rolled underneath him. One scene was very speedy and had a Vaudeville feel with fast piano music and humorous formations that look more comical when in fast forward. It would be interesting to see more choreographers play with this medium where they can manipulate their movements on another level.

i.n.k.

Ink drops slowly moved across the white backdrop of the stage as dancers mimicked their movement. This high concept piece again played with film, but this time the dancers were mirroring what was projected behind them, moving like drops of ink or flowing liquid. A duet was paired with a slowly falling water drop, and the anticipation of that drop falling, added to the tension of their movements. Some moments in this piece were fun and light, but others were poignant and slow moving. This is an expertly crafted piece combining dance, film, and sound to create a cohesive work of art.

With such a diverse program showcasing a decade of Lang’s work, this was a treat for Vancouver audiences. Lang is an in-demand choerographer, and I can see why. I hope we’ll see more of this company in the near future. 

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