Jessica Lang Dance Offers Gimmicky Repertory in Music Center Performance

 

Thousand Yard Stare: Costumes by Bradon McDonald

Thousand Yard Stare: Costumes by Bradon McDonald

New York choreographer Jessica Lang and company returned to Los Angeles this weekend with a program of old and new works. While Lang is a busy experimenter assembling dance from high concept ideas and interactive dance with film, it is her pure dance works that seem to strike the deepest chords. Such was the case on Friday’s opening night program in which works laced with film accompaniments and gimmicky contexts packed less punch than the evening’s standout work, Thousand Yard Stare, a moving meditation on the camaraderie and kinship embodied among those serving in the military. The work also reinforced another of Lang’s strong points, the ability to fashion compelling contemporary dance from 19th century classical music. Also on the program was Tesseracts of Time, an unwieldy and often too literal fusion of architecture and geometry, White, a charming chamber-sized dance film accompanied by Grieg’s piano miniatures, and i.n.k., a clever but ultimately superficial interactive dance piece. Also on the program was the frequently programmed The Calling, a short, quasi liturgical solo excerpted from a larger work. Of the three, the film holds up best on repeated viewing and is a testament to Lang’s considerable skill as a dance filmmaker.

 

Thousand Yard Stare makes thrilling use of the Heiliger Dankgesang movement from Beethoven’s op. 132 quartet, landmark music laden with supplicating, devotional appeal and overwhelming complexity. The work is designed as an ensemble piece for nine dancers dressed in a variety of fatigues and tee shirts. Lang has drawn the feeling for her work from interviews and interactions with veterans and has translated those stories into an on stage platoon that writhes with devastating connection and affection. Made up of mostly simple movement, the work opens in silence with halting marching and stamping patterns which are reprised against the music at the conclusion. The interior of the work blooms with an eloquent lyricism. The movement and Beethoven’s unlikely music echoing across two hundred years made a perfect match for Lang’s modern story. This was real stuff that delivered a visceral wallop, with exceptional performances turned in by Patrick Coker, Jammie Walker, and Julie Fiorenza.

 

Tesseracts of Time: ON costumes by Bradon McDonald

Tesseracts of Time: ON  (costumes by Bradon McDonald)

Tesseracts of Time never manages to go anywhere. It remains bottled up in its stagey and literal, four-part organization—the sections are titled UNDER, IN, ON, OVER. Lang’s architect collaborator Steven Holl wants us to share in his amazement of “architecture’s relationship to the ground” but it’s tough to milk any magic out of a concept that simplistically axiomatic.  Faring the best of the four sections was IN, an interactive film with the dancers navigating a supersized, labyrinthian sculpture. Accompanying them on stage were company members playing ineffectively off the projected movement. Kanji Segawa, Steven Holl, Milan Misko, and Ruoyu Wei collaborated on the film. The music for Tesseracts dabbled in works by Arvo Pärt, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, and Morton Feldman.

 

In the end, Thousand Yard Stare seemed clearly the heart and soul of the evening. The great disappointment was that the remaining works showed an accomplished company with wide ranging interests and an inherent eclecticism but with no organizing principle  knitting Lang’s collage of works together into a satisfying whole.

( All choreography  by Jessica Lang.  Click here for previously reviewed works included in this performance. The reviewed performance took place at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles, Friday February 17, 2017.  All lighting designs were by Nicole Pierce.  Photos by Todd Rosenberg.)

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