"A Solo in Nine Parts," "I.N.K.," "Aria," "From Foreign Lands and People"
Jessica Lang Dance
New York, NY
August 13, 2013
By Carol Pardo
Copyright ©2013 by Carol Pardo
Jessica Lang Dance, the final company to present its view of the future development of ballet under the aegis of the Joyce Theater’s Ballet v6.0, has been around only since 2012. But founder/choreographer Jessica Lang has already created 75 works in this century. She’s learned the importance of variety. In an hour and a half including intermission (no one piece was longer than twenty minutes), each work had its own look and sound: a Baroque concerto, a modern soundscape, vocal music and 19th century piano pieces played live. Lang always gave her audience something to see and to hear. And she led from strength.
"A Solo in Nine Parts," set, happily, to a less familiar excerpt from Vivaldi’s "The Four Seasons" is all of ten minutes long, but in that time it introduces the full company of five women and four men and Lang’s grasp of mass and momentum. With its green backdrop, and cream, gray and gray-green costumes, this dance took place on a terrace in Newport with all guests invited walk barefoot on the grass (though the dancers wore soft slippers). In the first movement, the group repeatedly ebbed and flowed to reveal each female dancer in a quick little solo, like rose buds that suddenly, one after the other, burst into bloom.
The adagio charted the gently shifting affections between two men and two women, with surprising, effective focus on momentum. As a man broke free of the woman clutching his ankle like a ball and chain, she reared back and up; for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Later a woman jumped on her partner’s back; he staggered forward under her weight and force. In both cases, that momentum caught the end of a musical phrase and made visible a detail in the score which would otherwise have gone unheard. The final movement was a genteel hoedown (for all its high spirits, this was still Newport). At one point two lines of dancers passed through each other in a small corner of the stage. Their intersection had the texture and tensile strength of a tightly woven reed basket. In ten minutes, Lang shown her formal strengths and gotten her audience on her side, willing to follow where she chose to lead.
Like "A Solo in Nine Parts," "Aria" is ten minutes long. Laura Mead, dressed in flamboyant red, was a drama queen who yearned for death and taunted her three male attendants, at one point breaking away from them to run behind a scrim and across the stage—vision, muse, tease. But it was never clear whether she was succumbing to the lyrics of Handel’s "Son contenta di morire" or just acting out.
The intentions of both "I.N.K." and "From Foreign Lands and People" were even more unintelligible. The former’s finest moment was its first when a dancer in black crawled onto the stage against a gray backdrop, her body and its shadow creating a new sleek species of algae. Thereafter Lang and the dancers were swallowed up by the video set by Sinichi Maruyama, all moving Rorschach blots—a lobster’s claw! A mantis’ jaw! Ribbons galore! An oil spill! Take your pick! The (literal) liquid sounds of the score by Jakub Ciupinski reinforced the sense of a dance swamped by its collaborators.
Lang, responsible for the set for "From Foreign Lands and People" (set to the Schumann suite) ended up shooting herself in the foot. As dusk gave way to night, the dancers spent twenty moving five pedestals into various objects: a gate, the soil around a newly dug grave, fence posts for a dancer to jump through. The dance impulse was trampled by the schlepping of the set. "From Foreign Lands and People" should serve the dancers or the objects; it can’t serve both. What might have been was only made more acute by the final, and strongest, moment of the piece. The dancers, dressed like club kids in their stylish midnight blue togs, piled up, somnolent and spent, as though Géricault’s "Raft of the Medusa" had run aground in the Meatpacking District at closing time. But the promise of "A Solo in Nine Parts" seemed ages, not ninety minutes, ago.