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REVIEW: Jessica Lang's Combination Of Ballet, Modern Dance Was Breathtaking

Jessica Lang Dance/Christopher Duggan

The Kentucky Center’s 2017-2018 dance programming wound up with an eclectic and elegant evening performed by the Jessica Lang Dance Company on Friday.

The program of five short pieces showcased the nine company dancers, Lang’s choreography and several impressive collaborators at the dance-friendly Brown Theatre.

A through-line of the evening was Lang’s sculptural, almost architectural, aesthetic continually creating and recombining tableaux that are both still and fluid. They were beautifully enhanced by Nicole Pearce’s elegantly nuanced and occasionally playful lighting: some of the most delicate and subtle dance lighting I’ve seen in Louisville in a long time.

The evening began with Lyric Pieces (2013) set to music of Edvard Grieg. The ten vignettes reflected 20th century neo-classic ballet with fluid lines, limpid extensions, and superb elevation. Amy Page’s clean, block-pattern costumes added to the elegance of the work. The mobile set pieces, created by Vancouver-based Molo studio, were fully integrated into the choreography, manipulated by the dancers, at times seemingly additional characters in the piece. Arguably abstract, there were also sequences in which relationship was palpable, most especially in Phantom, danced by Kana Kimura and Milan Misko.

The Calling (2006), again calling on sculptural qualities, featured a stunning costume and a single dancer, Jammie Walker (although the program cover highlights this variation with a different company member.) With choreography and costume concept by Lang, the movement of the yards of carefully-placed fabric was completely integral to the body movement. A powerful, meditative exploration of solitude.

The first half of the evening concluded with the most recent Lang choreography, glow (2017). Pearce embodied the piece’s title with a suspended neon splash that changed colors throughout. Composers Owen Clayton Condon and Ivan Trevino created an environment that, together with Lang’s choreography, created an almost gravity-free aesthetic. In concert with the (uncredited) training-type costumes and bright lime-colored sneakers, all of the elements suggested astronauts either in training or moving extra-terrestrially. The soles of dancer Patrick Coker’s sneakers at one point changed colors on impact with the floor and at the same time as the neon installation.

The five dancers’ spatial awareness as they moved seamlessly through full group, duos, trios, lifts, slides and more suggested that their spatial relationships would be absolutely relative, regardless of the size of their playing space. This was the most evident tribute to the truly ensemble nature of this company.

Shakespeare was the conceit of Sweet Silent Thought (2016) set to five sonnets and music by frequent collaborator Jakub Ciupinski. Lang’s choreography beautifully captured the essence of Shakespeare’s reflections on love and relationships without becoming too literal; a frequent challenge setting movement to text. Dancers Coker, Eve Jacobs, Rachel Secrest, and Walker — in ever-changing pairings — embodied the joy and challenges of equally ever-changing relationships.

Another 2016 piece, Thousand Yard Stare, closed the evening’s performance. The full company — including dancers Julie Fiorenza, John Harnage and Thomas Ragland — danced this piece set to the Adagio of Beethoven’s String Quartet #15. Bradon McDonald’s costuming subtly suggested military-wear, as the dancers moved through formations that framed the piece in a suggestion of parade-ground maneuvers. These eerily-concentrated yet unfocused sequences morphed into moving tableaux of injury, trauma, and grief — with a subtext of everyone supporting the others, no one left to experience this alone — that, in a completely stripped stage with chiaroscuro lighting, was visually compelling and emotionally devastating.

The culmination of these five very different pieces from the past eleven years of Jessica Lang’s repertoire reveals a company that elegantly balances the crispness and cleanness of ballet with the athleticism and “out of the box” movement of modern dance, without sacrificing the technical aspects of either and without one aesthetic overwhelming the other. It was a combination that was breathtaking to experience.

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