Jessica Lang Dance: A Showcase of Philadelphia Premieres

by Debra Danese for The Dance Journal | Photo Credit: Rachel Neville

Jessica Lang has established herself as an innovator in the dance world as both a choreographer and educator. The Bucks county native returned to Philadelphia this past weekend with her company, Jessica Lang Dance. The company presented a program,  as part of Annenberg Center Live, composed of all Philadelphia premieres, including a world premiere. There was great contrast between several of the dances. This highlighted Lang’s diverse movement vocabulary and incorporated unique design elements.

The program got off to a slow start with a solo and trio work. Both pieces were similar in movement style and shorter in length than the dances to follow.  Perhaps this was intentional in order to build from each piece,  but the three minute opening dance, nicely performed by Rachel Secrest, felt like it would have worked better later in the program. Once the program got to the third number, Glow, the performance began to better showcase both the dancers and Lang’s choreography.

Glow was a fun, funky number that meshed contemporary with ballet and jazz. Music by Owen Clayton and Ivan Trevino provided a well-used opportunity to play around with musicality. Different rhythmic patterns alternated between smooth legato and pulsing, staccato beats.  What made this piece particularly unique was the connection between the set and costume design. A curvy light fixture hung parallel to the floor. The dancers were dressed in white with neon colored sneakers. The sneakers lit up and changed colors to match the light fixture and emphasize the music. Patrick Coker had two brief but beautifully executed solos. His powerful turning leaps combination earned well-deserved applause from the audience.

In the world premiere of Us/We, Lang took us on an urban journey for a closer look at the unity of humankind. The opening was a visually commanding scene that utilized projection design and immediately set the tone for the production. The work had a little of everything- spoken word, acapella singing, New York City street sounds. The video design cleverly contributed to the city-scape feel of the piece, although at times it overpowered the dancing. The piece also incorporated a wide range of dance genres. The most unexpected and entertaining was a stepping sequence. The overall effect was organized chaos that sometimes felt disjointed but the company was exceptional in their performance.

The program had a strong finish with This Thing Called Thing. Lang paid tribute to Tony Bennett with a medley of some of his most well-known songs. It was playful, joyful, and reminiscent of old Hollywood dance musicals.  Recordings of Bennett speaking were intermixed throughout the dance and tied the various excerpts together. The original production was to include video projection that was omitted due to technical issues. The work stood strong on its own because it was so smartly constructed.

It was announced in November that Jessica Lang Dance has decided to close at the end of the 2018-19 season. It was a privilege for Philadelphia audiences to have had the chance to see the company one last time.

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