Jessica Lang Dance Company Makes West Coast Debut for One Weekend Only

Takao Komaru

Choreographer Jessica Lang's New York City-based dance company will debut three performances at Beverly Hills' Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts from May 30-31.

Anyone who has been to The Richmond Ballet, Ailey II, ABT or The Joffrey Ballet in recent years has very likely seen some of Jessica Lang’s work. After years as dance’s most in-demand choreographer, creating over 80 works on companies around the world, the prolific Lang finally decided to put her own name above the title in 2011. Her New York City-based dance company, Jessica Lang Dance, makes its West Coast debut this weekend (May 30-31) for three performances only at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.

“There’s a big question right now – where are all the female choreographers?” Lang tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Okay I’m answering, we are here.” Indeed she is. 2014 is turning out to be a banner year for the fledgling company. Escaping the Weight of Darkness, a performance featuring four dancers on a black stage with luminous objects overheard, debuted at Japan’s New National Theatre of Ballet to rapturous reviews in April, and her latest piece, Scape, set to John Adams’ "Violin Concerto," premiered earlier this month at The Kennedy Center. But these won’t be presented at the Wallis, instead Angelenos will be treated to roughly the same program as the company’s New York City premiere in February at the Joyce Theater.

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Inspired by artist Piet Mondrian, Lines Cubed is a perfect illustration of what Lang has become known for – bold imagery. “I had studied the artist when I was at Julliard and I had always been fascinated,” Lang explains the piece using a familiar Mondrian grid-like background combining red, yellow and blue. “Whenever I looked at his art I see it as being some sort of graphic from the computer.” The colors dictated the emotion of the piece, further enhanced by John and Thomas Metcalf’s repetitive rhythms. With the image and tone established, she finally turned her attention to the actual dance steps.

It’s precisely this unique process that sets Lang apart from other choreographers, though she says she's influenced by Twyla Tharp (with whom she danced in the late '90s) as well as Martha Graham. The latter’s 1930 piece, Lamentation, a solo featuring a dancer in a shirt that stretches over her head and shoulders, may have inspired Lang’s The Calling, which is also on the program. Like Lamentation, the piece is distinguished by an article of clothing -- in this case an absurdly oversized white skirt designed by Elena Comendador that has become a calling card for the company.

Also on the bill is Mendelssohn/Incomplete, an unfinished piece involving three couples that meet and part, set to the andante movement of the composer’s Piano Concerto in B. Closing out the first part of the show is Among the Stars, a pas de deux to the music of Ryuichi Sakamoto. The final two pieces of the night come out of her work with conceptual artist Shinichi Maruyama. “He said, I slow things down,” she recalls about first meeting with the water sculptor, “I said, I work with bodies.”

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Together they collaborated on White, a dance on film in which performers are captured in super slow motion, real time and fast motion all in the same frame. “Basically I choreograph something really, really, fast and we slow it down – something eleven seconds becomes three minutes long,” Lang explains. “We capture that and overlay it with two images so it looks like someone’s moving slowly and someone’s moving in real time and they interact in space.”

The final piece in the program, i.n.k., is also a collaboration with Murayama, who frequently uses calligraphy ink in his work. In this case, images of ink and water moving in super slow motion form a backdrop to Lang’s ensemble as they emulate the beguiling patterns of fluid in flight set to the squishy beat of Jakub Ciupinksi’s pulsating score.

Three years ago, after a decade of traveling from company to company Lang finally asked herself 'is there anything else'? With the formation of Jessica Lang Dance, she answered that question.

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