Review: Jessica Lang’s vision is far-reaching in company’s program at Irvine Barclay Theatre
New York choreographer Jessica Lang has a knack for conceiving a complete universe in each dance — distinctive in its look and mood, sound and atmosphere. She is a ballet illusionist, a more serious and intellectual cousin of the hallucinatory dance company Momix.
In Lang’s signature solo “The Calling,” for example, she conveys religious passion and humility. The dance — an expression of its score, the medieval chant “O Maria, Stella Maris” — is crafted out of spare, pleading gestures and with a costume that constrains the dancer: a voluminous dress that spreads like an open, flat parachute. It is a striking exaggeration of womanhood, and a symbol of the character’s life.
The piece begins as a continuous stream of crisply exacting formations. Lang’s outstanding nine dancers march slowly across the stage in profile, stop and lean backward, begin forward again, stopping in midstep with a lifted, flexed foot. It’s a zombie-like procession. They are knocked over, and reverberations of bombs catapult them into remarkable body-twisting leaps. The dancers crawl and clump together to form tunnels. There is fear, cowering and compassion among comrades, an echo of the gentleness in Beethoven’s somber String Quartet No. 15.
Facing front, the dancers look identical in designer Bradon McDonald’s fatigue-green pants and tops; the shirt backs, however, are distinguished by different black-and-white graffiti-like squiggles. A soldier’s individuality is secondary and hidden. Dark stage lighting is penetrated by occasional ominous flashes. This ballet is spare yet evocative, gorgeous throughout.
Lang digs into the rhythmic complexities of the Bach partita (all the music was recorded), giving her soloist airy jumps and quickly accented small steps and beats. One of the evening’s standouts, Coker alternated seamlessly between these adagio and allegro moments.
The other four works on the program were presented two years ago at the company’s first local show at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. These pieces are more theatrical, expressions of a single idea. But they also show off the skills of Lang’s dancers, especially Clifton Brown, the Alvin Ailey veteran who brings elegance and gravitas to Lang’s choreography.
Kana Kimura gave a memory-making performance in “The Calling”; she and Brown were equally intense during the central duet in the night’s closer, “i.n.k” (2011). The black-on-white “i.n.k,” with video art by Shinichi Maruyama and an original Jakub Ciupinski score, was preceded by a companion work, the white-on-black dance film “White,” shot by Maruyama. Taken together, they are a snapshot of Lang’s originality and what’s possible when artistic minds enable one another’s visions.
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