Monday, April 14th, 2014 12:00 PM
Jessica Lang Dance pools resources of video, costumes and choreography for unforgettable evening (review)
Good thing Jessica Lang Dance didn't bill itself a "company." That would have been a misnomer.
Equal parts ballet, visual art collective and modern dance ensemble, the young New York-based troupe that stunned a DanceCleveland crowd Saturday night at Playhouse Square looked more like three companies than merely one.
The athleticism and control of the performers were themselves something to behold. Add to these Lang's poignant choreography and gorgeous work by some more › dozen designers of lighting, costumes and video and the result was an unforgettable evening of dance.
"Among the Stars" tugged hardest at the heartstrings. Separated at first by a long, silky fabric, dancers Laura Mead and Clifton Brown gradually overcame the gap and made use of the cloth in an elegant, almost classical pas de deux, only for Mead to end up bound once again, forever off limits.
Sympathy and awe, by contrast, were the prime reactions to "The Calling." Alone like a statute at the center of a vast white skirt, dancer Kana Kamura sank, twisted and pumped her arms in apparent anguish, at times seeming to disappear, magically, into the floor or the fabric itself.
Costume and lighting designers Lisa Choules and Nicole Pearce deserve nearly as much credit as the choreographer, who also designed the set, for the wonder that was "Lines Cubed." Without them, Lang's homage to painter Piet Mondrian might have been flat or anemic.
Instead, it was dynamic, a paean to color and spirit. Dancers in red, yellow and blue executed mechanical patterns and freewheeling, virtuosic solos against a backdrop of white squares and black lines. Rounding out the three-dimensional space were accordion borders, drawn forward and back, on and off, like a painting in the making.
Typically a live art, dance instead came pre-recorded in "White," a film by Shinichi Maruyama. Playful and groundbreaking at once, the film showed larger-than-life dancers moving at half or double speed, toying with foreground and background, and interacting in ways generally unthinkable in real life. Perhaps never has a single work of dance unveiled so many possibilities.
Maruyama also was a prime creative force behind "i.n.k.," the program's mesmerizing finale. There, a gurgling soundtrack and high-definition video of ink globules in air served as the backdrop to black-clad dancers essentially imitating what was going on behind them.
Every element of the footage became a springboard for movement. Speed, texture and density all translated as everything from lyrical duets to frenetic ensemble numbers. In one case, a dancer even interacted with the screen, executing flips over a string of ink-blobs rolling along the bottom.
The emotional pull of this was surprising. Contained within those images was the spectrum of human sentiment. Like most of the evening with Jessica Lang Dance, it was sensory saturation, the equivalent of two dances taking place simultaneously.
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
RELATED COMPANY: Jessica Lang Dance
Monday, April 7th, 2014 12:00 PM
DanceCleveland isn't fading into the sunset. Far from it. It is, however, ending its season in classic fashion, with the parting image employed countless times by books, movies and television: the hint of a bright future.
In presenting Jessica Lang Dance next week, the series is closing out the year, not with an established troupe but rather with a striking newcomer, a company that's been in existence only three years but more › already ranks as one of the dance world's hottest commodities.
"There's a lot of buzz," said dancer Laura Mead. "We're building very rapidly. We're definitely young, and that's part of the excitement. We're a new thing."
Much of the buzz stems from Lang's unique choreographic voice, formed and tested at the Juilliard School in New York. Rare in her field, her language combines classical ballet with the weighty, grounded elements of modern dance.
The spell this casts on performers and their audience is potent. Those bound to tradition get to remain inside their comfort zones, enjoying ballet's symmetry, lightness and flowing lines. At the same time, all get the chance to witness or convey personal, emotional statements.
"I do enjoy work that comes from a ballet idiom," Mead explained. "And love that I get to use all my physical powers, that I really get to dig in.
"But there's also a lot of room for individual expression. She [Lang] really gives us a lot of room to find what feels good for us. We are nine individuals dancing together."
Collaboration is another secret to the success that has greeted Lang since 2011. Where some choreographers insist on doing everything themselves, Lang is fond of sharing the creative load with others, especially composers and visual artists.
At least two of the works in store on the company's Cleveland program April 12, "I.N.K." and "Lines Cubed," hinge heavily on sets and costumes inspired or conceived by artists outside dance.
The former, which includes video and an original score, finds beauty in midair collisions between ink and water, while the latter plays off Piet Mondrian's bright color palette and stark geometry. "Among the Stars," meanwhile, employs a long, stretchy fabric, and the solo dancer in "The Calling" works magic with an immense white skirt. The fifth and final work is "Mendelssohn/Incomplete."
"They're not just gimmicks," said Mead of the visual effects. "They really add something. They're like another dancing partner."
Not to be underestimated, too, is the company's team spirit. Because it's an entity both new and small, the troupe is still very much on the ascent, and all members are serious and invested in a way dancers with larger, established organizations may not be.
"She really gives us a lot of room to find what feels good for us. We are nine individuals dancing together."
Dancer Clifton Brown said he came to Lang from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in part for the experience of starting from scratch. Now, in addition to dancing, he's helping with administrative work and performing other tasks. This carries over to the stage, he said, keeping egos in check and drawing the artists together.
"Young dancers want to outshine the image itself. But we're all on the same page, to make a good body of work. In this company, everybody has a job besides dancing, and it's because we all want to help. We believe in the company."
But if there's one thing that truly explains why Jessica Lang Dance is on the rise, it's probably accessibility. For while strict classical ballet can be off-putting, and pure modern dance doesn't necessarily resonate with everyone, Lang's work strives for broader relevance.
In fact, Mead said, patrons need not feel obliged to know anything about dance. All it takes to be one of Lang's patrons is a certain openness and an appreciation for the inherent beauty of physical bodies moving in space to music.
"People really respond to us," Mead said. "If you release yourself to the experience, you'll be transported."
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
RELATED COMPANY: Jessica Lang Dance
Monday, March 31st, 2014 12:00 PM
Choreographer Jessica Lang has been working since 1999 on dance making – and has been heralded for her ingenious combination of clever dance ideas and background sets and costumes. Only two years ago, though, she formed her own company, Jessica Lang Dance, and she's once again the talk of the town.
All that prestige was enough for DANCECleveland, our area's wonderful dance presentation organization and a Knight Arts grantee, to snap more › up an engagement by this company in its debut performance in the northeast Ohio area.
To really give the flavor of her work and the dancing abilities of her company, Jessica Lang Dance will perform six of Lang's recent works.
"LInes Cubed," Jessica Lang, choreographer. Photo by Sharen Bradford
"Lined Cubed," created in 2012, has been called "the physical embodiment of a Mondrian color-block painting" by Dance Magazine. The set for the work is a clue to the geometrical theme of dance ideas, for the backdrop is divided into panels of white and primary colors. Costumes and lighting enhance the dancers as they move their way into and out of the color cycles. By dance end, each of the nine dancers are arranged symmetrically and represent each of the colors.
"Lines Cubed," Jessica Lang, choreographer. Photo by Sharen Bradford
"Mendelssohn/Incomplete" (2011), which is set to music by Felix Mendelssohn, was created during Lang's Joyce Theater residency. Six dancers are dressed in various hues of purple and blue, and reportedly glide through the lush and expressive music of the Romantic era composer with sometimes simple, unforced moves that are designed to enhance both motion and music.
"Among the Stars" (2010) is a shorter work for two dancers in a duet set to music by Ryunichi Sakamoto. At times the dancers have flowing trains behind them as they progress through the inky dark background as though really among, and eventually to be separated by, the stars themselves.
"The Calling" (excerpt from Splendid Isolation II), is an even shorter solo dance of seven minutes created in 2006. It features music by Trio Mediaeval. In what may be a nod to Martha Graham dancing in a stocking, this work features the dancer emerging from and dancing in a very long white dress. With bare arms and back, the rest of the scene is the swirling fabric of the dress.
"White" is unusual in that it is a dance on film choreographed and directed by Lang with music by Edward Grieg. Sounds weird, but watch segments on YouTube.com and you can get the sense of how magical and creative the enterprise is. The Grieg music doesn't hurt either.
And finally "i.n.k." (2012) features video art by Shinichi Maruyama from his Kusho series (translated as 'writing in the sky") in a longer 21-minute work for seven dancers. Large sloshes and splatters and droplets of black ink pan across the background as dancers move through the upstage area in concert with it all.
A simple description of the variety and ingenuity of what Lang creates makes this upcoming concert a real draw. It has all the makings of a wonderful dance experience.
The evening at the Ohio Theatre will feature a free pre-performance talk in the theater at 7:15 p.m. and a post-performance moderated Q&A session with members of the company.
DANCECleveland will present Jessica Lang Dance at 8:00p.m. on Saturday, April 12 at the Ohio Theatre in Cleveland Playhouse Square, 1501 Euclid Ave., Akron; 216-241-6000; www.dancecleveland.org. Tickets are $20-$45.
Monday, March 10th, 2014 12:00 PM
The invisible barrier between artist and audience seemingly dissolved Saturday night at Cleveland's PlayhouseSquare.
So affecting were the performances by the Trisha Brown Dance Company on its likely last appearance on the DanceCleveland series, one almost imagined the troupe had somehow slipped the full Ohio Theatre into a trance.
Ascribe it to the meaningful quality of Brown's work. Not only did her dancers Saturday give some remarkably lithe, lyrical performances but the more › pieces themselves also stood for something, revealing profound truths about life and humanity.
Take "Set and Reset," for instance, the first and oldest work on the program, from 1983.
A snapshot of urban living, the piece resonated powerfully with all who've ever felt small and alone among millions in a giant metropolis.
Wearing loose clothes meant to look scruffy and stained, to a score featuring urban noises, the dancers did what people in large cities do every day: mill around, pair off, bump into each other, fall in line. It was orderly, functional chaos, and mesmerizing to behold.
Equally but much differently moving was "If You Couldn't See Me," a solo from 1994 originally performed by Brown herself. There, the messages were that dance conveys more than meets the eye and that intimacy takes many forms.
Dancing with her back firmly to the audience in hot red light for 10 minutes, Cecily Campbell revealed more of her personality and physicality than if she'd sat on stage and addressed the crowd. Through the choreography alone, loose and impulsive, she made herself known.
Fewer, less poignant emotions were stirred by "Les Yeux et L'ame," a suite from Brown's 2010 adaptation of "Pygmalion." Formal in nature and full of patterns broad and intricate, the setting of music by Rameau evoked intellectual rather than visceral admiration.
The most touching aspect was a hugging motif. Time and again, pairs within the ensemble engaged in beautiful intimate embraces or the group as a whole traced circles evocative of the gesture and conveying the love felt by the mythological sculptor for his creation.
An air of rawness permeated the show's hard-hitting, rhapsodic finale, "I'm Going to Toss My Arms – If You Catch Them They're Yours," from 2011. With no sets, little music, and only simple white costumes on the dancers, the focus was squarely on the movement.
What's more, that plainness, along with a group of large industrial fans blowing strongly from one side of the stage, also served as a striking metaphor: universal forces bear on us all and lead everyone to the same exposed point in the end.
The choreography was loose and free, and highly individualistic, the performances lucid and compelling. All the while, the fans continued their assault, blowing off items of clothing one by one and gradually leaving all in their undergarments, encapsulating in a single half-hour the essential, leveling nature of existence.
Brown herself, incapacitated by a series of mini-strokes, is no longer a creative force. But if there was one thing Saturday's performance made perfectly clear above all, it's that Brown's work not only endures but remains as vigorous as ever.
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
RELATED COMPANY: Trisha Brown Dance Company
Friday, March 7th, 2014 12:00 PM
The legacy of the Trisha Brown Dance Company may lie in how it's handling its own legacy.
Faced with the gradual loss of its namesake, the troupe headed to PlayhouseSquare Saturday is transforming itself and adopting a new mission, all the while setting an example for arts groups everywhere.
"We're not closing," said associate artistic director Diane Madden. "We're trying to make it clear that we're going to keep the company going, more › but in a different shape. It's a creative time on many levels."
Performances like the one taking place Saturday will soon be a thing of the past. Soon after it became clear that Brown was no longer able to choreograph following a series of small strokes, the New York-based company made the choice to stop touring and shift its priorities to education and site-specific events.
But first: one last grand journey, one final round of concerts on all the major series like DanceCleveland on which Brown's creations over the last 40 years have had a major impact.
"Everywhere we go, we encounter dear friends and a real emotional connection," Madden said. "People are not ready to say goodbye to the work."
It's that work, in the abstract, that will be the company's new focus. Where so many dances fade with their choreographers, Brown's vast output stands to live and remain accessible for generations.
That's because an ambitious effort to document, catalog and store the relics of Brown's creative life is underway. Like a presidential library, the resulting collection is intended to serve as an invaluable resource for all who would consult it.
"We want it to be accurate and visible, and that creates some issues," Madden said. "But there's no question about the relevance of her work."
The relevance of Brown's work should certainly be visible to all who attend the performance Saturday. Between the program's four offerings, patrons new and old will gain an appreciation for just how broad and diverse was her output.
"Set and Reset," a septet from 1983, marks the beginning of the survey, followed by "If You Couldn't See Me," a 1994 solo originally performed by Brown herself and described by Madden as either "completely overwhelmingly or very fun."
"There's no sense of slowing down or pulling back. We're just cooking."
Two of Brown's last works, both from 2011, bring up the second half of the program. "I'm Going to Toss My Arms – If You Catch Them They're Yours" is notable for its use of giant fans while "Les Yeux et L'ame" is a ballet declaring choreography's independence from music.
"It's really important people realize this is not a choreographer who had a hit and kept redoing it," Madden said. "She was always pushing the envelope."
One might assume, under the circumstances, that the Trisha Brown Dance Company is forlorn, sadly trudging along to an end clearly in sight. In fact, Madden said, the opposite is true.
While Brown's poor health and inability to work are indeed sad, the company itself is enjoying a strange kind of renaissance celebrating her life. In that way, they're modeling yet another and more healthy way of addressing the ephemeral nature of life and dance.
"There's almost a disconnect," Madden explained. "We're going strong and the dancers are performing beautifully. There's no sense of slowing down or pulling back. We're just cooking."
Trisha Brown Dance Company
What: On its farewell tour, the troupe performs iconic works from 1983 to 2011.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, March 8.
Where: Ohio Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 1501 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.
Tickets: $20-$70. Go to dancecleveland.org or call 216-241-6000.
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
RELATED COMPANY: Trisha Brown Dance Company