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Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer  |  April 14, 2014

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 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.

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