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The Plain Dealer  |  March 06, 2017

Jessica Lang Dance entertains, inspires, and moves on return to DanceCleveland (review)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A fan of Shakespeare's sonnets, Jessica Lang choreographed ballets for her company's performance at Playhouse Square's Ohio Theatre Saturday that played out like a series of sonnets spanning stylistic and emotional depths.

After wowing audiences in 2014 with a collection of ballets filled with visual splendor, Jessica Lang Dance returned to DanceCleveland Saturday with a program that was theatrically more subdued than in 2014 but nevertheless did not fail to entertain, inspire, and move those in attendance.

The all-Lang program began with a greeting of sorts. The 3-minute "Solo Bach" (2008) danced by Patrick Coker to the music of Bach, was an expressive and uplifting jaunt in which Coker on several occasions spread open his arms wide toward the audience as if to say "welcome, let us dance for you."

That solo was followed by the first of two ballets repeated from the company's 2014 Cleveland engagement, "Among the Stars" (2010). Set to ethereal music by Ryuichi Sakamoto and danced with feeling by Jammie Walker and Laura Mead costumed in Elena Comendador's Rapunzel hair-length dress, the couple moved with grace and graciousness, like two Greek gods engaged in a celestial lullaby, As the 7-minute pas de deux progressed, the train of Mead's dress became detached from her and was used in various fashions to separate, unite, and exalt the couple.

A highlight of the evening was the world premiere Lang's "Her Road," the final chapter in Lang's trilogy inspired by the life and work of artist Georgia O'Keefe; most specifically her "Road" series of paintings. The previous two ballets in the trilogy, "Her Door to the Sky" (2016) for Pacific Northwest Ballet and "Her Notes" (2016) for American Ballet Theatre, dealt with other areas of O'Keefe's body of work.

Dancing to music by Beethoven, a quartet of women in white dresses dyed sky-blue at their bottoms moved about a long, thin and similarly blue-colored fabric that stretched from the floor high into a stage wing; perhaps a reference to O'Keefe's 1964 painting Road Past the View II.

The choreography for "Her Road" had the feel of a work by Lang's mentor Mark Morris, with its keen sense of musicality and movement fluidity. As in all the ballets on the program no matter the style, subject matter, or mood, Lang here imbued the dancers' movement with a lightness that gave the impression that a stiff breeze could easily carry them skyward.

The women here engaged in sharp-angled arm movements, trips to and from the stage floor, and recurring mini rises of their feet, like moving into a hop that never leaves the ground. The ballet was a fitting tribute to O'Keefe's legacy.


The program's second half began with 2016's "Sweet Silent Thought," a ballet literally scored to and driven by Shakespeare sonnets. In it, two male and two female dancers emotionally acted out a series of short sonnets covering subjects of love, loss, death and the passing of time. The dancers wonderfully showed in motion, the drama and passion behind Shakespeare's words.

The second ballet repeated from 2014's program and the second to feature a strikingly bountiful dress by Comendador, was the solo "The Calling," excerpted from Lang's 2006 ballet Splendid Isolation II.

As with "Among the Stars" (which could be a companion piece to this), the solo, danced by Eve Jacobs, was breathtakingly beautiful. Splayed out in a circular pattern on the stage with Jacobs at its center, the sleek wedding-gown-like dress appeared an extension of Jacobs' being. She twisted and turned in it, coiling it around her feet and forming an image of her on a pedestal as if lifted closer to the heavens where she belonged.

Equally as spellbinding as "The Calling," but in an emotionally gripping way, was 2015's "Thousand Yard Stare," which closed the program. Also set to music by Beethoven, the ballet, whose title refers to the vacant or unfocused gaze into the distance indicative of a war-weary or traumatized soldier, was Lang's artistic statement on the effects war has on those in the military.

Stark in its stage dressing and lighting by Cleveland-native Nicole Pearce, the 20-minute ballet for the full company of nine vacillated between abstract movement and that which painted vivid pictures of fear, compassion, conflict and camaraderie.

Costumed in fatigue-like pants and t-shirts, whose backs featured artwork by veterans affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and military sexual trauma (MST), the heartfelt ballet stirred a range of emotions in the viewer. One striking death mask-like t-shirt image worn by dancer Clifton Brown proved a haunting reminder of the terrible price war exacts on those at the bloody and brutal heart of it.

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