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AUDIENCE REVIEW: Jessica Lang Dance at The Prince, Philadelphia
Jessica Lang Dance
Jessica Lang Dance performed in Philadelphia at The Prince. Jessica Lang is a Philadelphia based artist with international recognition for her choreography. The program presented by NextMove Dance that night was quick and accumulative, with short pieces creating a common theme.
The first piece, Solo Bach, illustrates for me an enlightenment moment. The music of Bach is a joyous sound. The second piece, Among The Stars, takes a different direction towards Japanese traditions. Jessica Lang's diverse experience is apparent, including her work for the National Ballet of Japan and Joffrey ballet. The third piece, Her Road, brings to the stage images of feminism. I was struck by the stillness in The Calling, and the slow-motion in Thousand Yard Stare.
Solo Bach is a soft and majestical dance, and the movement responds as a choir or make-believe miracle of some kind that comes through the soul. Patrick Coker moves with the passionate music. At first it is characteristic of spirituality, but then he moves in ways that ground him. It is a manifestation of the divine, set to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The divine state of being is uplifting and at the same time it can belittle the dancer on stage.
Among the Stars is a duet that has the stage separating two dancers by a long silk fabric of silver color. The influence of Japanese folk music creates a fantasy. Japanese tradition comes through ghost stories and womens' precarious place in society. The upward motion of the female dancer is a moment of reflection. Theatrical moments like this are frozen in time and bring to mind the Japanese traditional theater called Kabuki.
Her Road is a dance about Georgia O'Keeffe and the work of female artists through history. The costume design by Jim Lang is reminiscent of paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe. The scenic design by Jessica and Jim Lang is a stem that falls diagonally and at a certain point in the dance divides the dancers. The transformation that occurs in nature, like the flower in full bloom and the power of feminism in art, shows a similar progressive effect. The music of Beethoven adds to the effect, a collaborative fortissimo performance about nature and femininity. Feminism in art is currently being celebrated at the Brooklyn Museum, and coincides with the 10th anniversary of Elizabeth A. Stackler Center for Feminist Art.
The Calling (an excerpt from Splendid Isolation II), performed in 2006, is a solo dance in which the movement is restricted by the costume, designed by Elena Comendador. The anatomy, movement, space, and sculptural gestures are impressive. At first we notice the heavy weight of a white hoop skirt, which resembles a bridal gown. It is then manipulated to conform to the shape of her body; it is twisted around her sleek figure. The costume and lighting transforms the woman into an image of statuesque beauty.
Thousand Yard Stare is another piece that includes the music of Beethoven. It is a war themed dance, and it consists of a full ensemble. I find the music to be especially appropriate because of the consciousness of Beethoven's movements. The dance is a staggering line of green military shirts. They are marching and calling to one another across the stage and hesitation in their steps makes it a shifty formation. When the costume design by Bradon MacDonald changes, the order becomes circular and signs on their shirts show a political message of protest. This form of expression in the costume and free form among the dancers is like a war zone.
Comparing the classical music of Beethoven and the physical performance in contemporary dance is interesting. The music shifts from a rhythmic melody and a simple pattern to a shattering stop. There is a consideration for movement in Beethoven's music. Jessica Lang Dance is on the frontier of gender studies and the politics involved with women in history. For me the beauty of Jessica Lang Dance is the combination of physical theater, ballet, and "pure music."