The names of many choreographers may have wafted through the heads of viewers watching Jessica Lang Dance’s performance Saturday night at the Lisner Auditorium, names such as Balanchine, Forsythe, Robbins and Kylian. The first four works in the program were pleasing variations on tropes established by dance makers who preceded Lang, a young, New York-based choreographer. Then, finally, came two pieces suggesting that someday soon Lang will be a name to know.
Speaking before the performance, Washington Performing Arts President Jenny Bilfield described being deeply moved by Jessica Lang Dance when the then two-year-old company appeared at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 2013. “We have got to find a way to bring you to Washington,” Bilfield said she told Lang. Find a way she did, although in the interim, the National Symphony Orchestra invited Lang to create “Scape,” a piece performed live in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall last May.
Lang’s full-program Washington debut opened with “Lines Cubed,” a five-movement work that featured dancers in black, blue, yellow and red costumes manipulating giant paper accordions of varying sizes across the stage, as if creating a living Piet Mondrian painting. The effect was fascinating, but rather than creating a movement vocabulary as unique as her conceit, each section seemed to reference a ballet from the past, including Balanchine’s “The Unanswered Question,” Robbins’s “Interplay” and Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.”
Three shorter works followed, including two relying on overly long dresses as props, both lovely additions to a genre exploited by Kylian and others. Then, while her seven dancers caught their breath, “White,” a dance film, was projected onto a two-story screen at the rear of the stage. Occasionally, choreographers embarrass themselves when they try integrating new technology into their works. Not Lang. Her dancers cavorted to Grieg piano sonatas and, with help from film editors Tetsushi Wakasugi and Jackson Notier, they did so in slow motion and fast-forward, always to the music, using technology to create the perfect petit allegro.
Wakasugi and Notier were also Lang’s partners in creating “i.n.k.,” the strongest work on the program. Lang was at her most musical when syncing movement to a soundscape of gurgling, dripping and plopping noises that accompanied a cinematic backdrop of roving ink blots. During the central, stunning pas de deux, Clifton Brown slowly manipulated Kana Kimura through a series of lifts while a foreboding black tear slowly descended like sand from an hourglass.
A final, faster movement followed, also incorporating more unique lifts, including several for two men hoisting one woman. The piece was over far too soon but was good to the last drop.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.