Jessica Lang has an impressive résumé and Dance Magazine has given her the title of “master of visual composition”. Her company, Jessica Lang Dance is based in New York and it is clear that she has paid attention to the work of her colleagues. It is also clear that Jessica Lang Dance is well funded. The company can afford a cast of some of the best dancers in the business, beautifully designed and constructed costumes, an astonishing video by Shinichi Maruyama and excellent lighting by Nicole Pearce. Lang’s choreography is good and well-crafted but often derivative of well-known choreographers with very distinct styles. The audience loved it, and a majority of them gave the company a standing ovation at the end of the evening. The dancers definitely deserved this show of appreciation as they are outstanding. I am not one, however, who agrees with the Irvine Barclay Theater audience’s glowing response. If one has paid attention to the leading choreographers over the past few decades, it is clear that although Ms. Lang’s dances are very well produced her ideas are far from original.
Solo Bach performed with strength and agility by Patrick Coker to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, is a nice dance to open the program. The movement visualizes the music almost note for note, and like a couple of the other works on this program, Solo Bach is built on an “ABA” choreographic theme. Meaning, of course, that the dance opens and closes with the same or very similar movement phrases. Coker was an excellent choice for this work as he is very musical and a pleasure to watch perform.
The duet Among the Stars is performed to the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto by Laura Mead and Clifton Brown. It is a duet of love, longing and loss; a theme that we have seen far more times than one can count. Mead is en pointe and Clifton, as her suitor, is an amazing partner with a strong talent for turning. Nothing new was presented in this dance including the ending where Mead is left alone onstage wound up in the very long chiffon scarf as the lights fade. I keep hoping for a dance that involves a woman and a long piece of material to have a surprise ending.
The evening improved with Ms. Lang’s newest work, Thousand Yard Stare. The entire cast performed to music by Ludwig van Beethoven and a brilliant lighting design by Nicole Pearce. Thousand Yard Stare opens in silence with stylized marching movements which develop into strong rhythmic stomping. The work is confusing in that the dancers go from pure movement to emoting to an unseen enemy, to Paul Taylor-like dancing and back again with the same rhythmic stomping done this time to music. In spite of the program notes explaining what this dance was meant to be representing, it is the dancers and Pearce’s lighting that make Thousand Yard Stare enjoyable to watch.
Julie Fiorenza gives a beautiful performance in The Calling (excerpt from Splendid Isolation II). We discover her standing in what may be one of the longest full-circle dresses ever made. The majority of the movement involves Fiorenza’s upper body, arms and facial expressions. The movement that brought audible sounds from the people around me was when Ms. Fiorenza slowly sinks, giving the illusion is that she is disappearing into the floor a la the wicked witch melting in The Wizard of OZ. The Calling is elegant and visually stunning.
The strongest work on the program was a dance film titled White with music by Edward Grieg and simple but beautiful costumes by Elena Comendador. The dancing is light and airy, but what makes White interesting is the camerawork and editing. There is a section involving two duets that are performed by the same man and woman. The duets are fused together through the magic of editing to create an unique experience not possible in live performances. One duet is filmed at normal speed and the other in slow motion. How these two intersect is a testament to the Director of Photography, Shinichi Maruyama and the Editors, Tetsushi Wakasugi and Jackson Notier. There is a less interesting section when the movement is sped up and cheapens the film by introducing insipid humor seemingly inspired by chase scenes in silent Buster Keaton films.
The program closed with video art combining with dance to produce another visually pleasing work. The program states that i.n.k. was inspired by the work of Shinichi Maruyama and it is Maruyama’s black and white video that we see projected on the entire back area of the stage. Single ink drops fly across the space and splash as they hit an invisible barrier. This single drop multiplies into hundreds of drops and later on entire streams of ink wash over the screen like a large brushstroke seen in Japanese calligraphy by Miyu Tamamuraor and paintings of Franz Klein. Dancers near the back of the stage recoil as if to avoid being engulfed by these waves of black liquid moving toward them. During one section dancers appear to be jumping over, rolling under and pushing away circles of liquid rushing across the stage or flying upward and out of sight. Unfortunately, the dancers get lost in all the activity that is happening behind them.
There is a wonderful, passionate and lengthy duet in i.n.k. that is performed with great skill by Julie Fiorenza and Clifton Brown. The chemistry between these two helps realize the tension of this duet and it involves one of the most stunning visuals in the entire dance. A single drop of ink descends so slowly that it is at first imperceptible. The time it takes for this drop to finally splash at rapid speed onto the bottom surface, form a crown-like shape and revert back to super slow motion, is the full length of the duet. It is hypnotic in nature and the sudden splash is very effective. For this reviewer, the duet would be enough both choreographically and visually. It is the most memorable section of this work.
Jessica Lang Dance will fill the houses and please most audiences. It is definitely worth admission to see the wonderful performances of dancers Clifton Brown, Patrick Coker, Julie Fiorenza, John Harnage, Eve Jacobs, Kana Kimura, Laura Mead, Milan Misko and Jammie Walker. I would love to see them in work that they could sink their artistic teeth into instead of simply entertaining us. The entire production value of this company is extraordinary, but I’m not certain that the choreography could ever stand on its own without all the visual aids. Time will tell.