Entertainment

Jessica Lang Dance at The Joyce Theater

by Steve Weinstein
Contributor
Thursday Feb 27, 2014
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Jessica Lang and her dynamic company return to the Joyce
Jessica Lang and her dynamic company return to the Joyce  (Source:Sharen Bradford)

In her just-completed week-long season, Jessica Lang at the Joyce showed how a really innovative choreographer can use color, film and music to get the audience excited about the possibilities of modern dance.

"Lines Cubed," a long piece that uses a backdrop obviously inspired by the modern artist Mondrian, is comprised of various parts each one distinguished by a color. Rather than limiting Lang, however, the use of a palette has allowed her to bring new nuances to each color.

The "Black" section, for example, which is the curtain opener, isn’t at all what one would expect. Rather than somber, the entire ensemble hurls itself across the stage. Dressed in very sexy outfits (Lang’s use of costumes is equally impressive, as well as her ability to know instinctively that such garb should free the dancer, not limit him), the dancers make various groups, all of them wildly expressive -- not at all somber, but joyous. The movements perfectly complement the music, a New Age-like (but not obnoxiously so!) score that is by turns moody and upbeat.

The rest of the program equals the long "Lines Cubed" and kept the audience at the edge of its collective seat; no small feat for the very knowing viewers at the Joyce, our indisputable center of modern dance in this city.

As outlandish as it seems, watching a film of dancers at a live performance was actually quite exhilarating, thanks to the way film allows the dancers alternately to slow down, speed up and even make Muybridge-like frame-by-frame set shots.

I was all set not to like "White," a filmed piece in which Lang manipulates imagery of dancers set on a backdrop screen at the rear of the stage. As outlandish as it seems, watching a film of dancers at a live performance was actually quite exhilarating, thanks to the way film allows the dancers alternately to slow down, speed up and even make Muybridge-like frame-by-frame set shots.

Similarly, "i.n.k." uses film -- in this case, a backdrop of ink splotches -- to frame the dancers on stage. The music by Jakub Ciupinski, also uses water as a motif. The result is not only a lot of fun, but also a thoughtful comment on the similarity between the way dancers converge and separate and the natural play of water itself.

For myself, I found "The Calling" a bit of a disappointment. When the stage opens, a solo dancer is surrounded by the super-long symmetrical train of a white dress. The visually stunning image, however, is not borne out by the choreography, which I felt didn’t make full use of such an extraordinary garment. This has apparently become Lang’s signature piece, however, so perhaps I was just expecting too much from what had gone before on the program.

That said, the overall effect of the evening was electric. Jessica Lang has proven herself one of the most important and original choreographers of a generation that is producing a bumper crop of young revolutionaries. I strongly recommend that anyone interested in where modern dance is going catch this troupe on its next outing at the Joyce.

Jessica Lang at the Joyce ran through Feb. 23 at The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue in New York. For information or tickets on upcoming shows, call 212-691-9740 or visit www.joyce.org

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

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