Dallas — Jessica Lang Dance cut a wide swath of mood and style Friday, Dec. 9 at the Winspear Opera House, ranging from the buoyant to the dramatic, from the visually beautiful to the architecturally complex. Choreographer and artistic director Jessica Lang’s use of space, time and structure, however, are so striking that sometimes they overpower the emotional impact of dance.
That’s why the first piece, Solo Bach, was a little piece of joy. Performed by Patrick Coker, it begins with his back to us before he kicks a leg and turns to face us, palms up. He scampers and frolics, his quick about-face turns as smooth as butter and his jumps airy.
Much more complex was Sweet Silent Thought, set to five Shakespeare sonnets and to a crackling score by Jakub Ciupinski. In silky white tunics and pants, nine dancers soar and swivel in scattered formation, patterns-ever shifting. The recorded voice has a lulling effect, perhaps amplified by the liquid movement and its serene pauses.
There was nothing calm about Thousand Yard Stare, a nightmarish drama about shell-shocked soldiers. In silence and on a dark, empty stage, nine dancers in fatigues march forward in robotic formation, lifting a foot and pausing in mid-air. Then the mood shifts as eerie green light is cast down upon on the figures and Beethoven’s mournful String Quartet No. 15, Op. 132 takes over. The action is all frog leaps, crawls, slides and falls, punctuated by comrades lifted aloft and gently returned to the ground. Strobe lights emphasize danger and chaos.
While dramatic, Thousand Yard Stare can’t compare in emotional impact to such anti-war ballets as Ben Stevenson’s harrowing Mozart’s Requiem or Paul Taylor’s Company B. There is something too remote and overthought about Thousand Yard Stare to register much feeling.
The sheer visual appeal of The Calling (excerpt from Splendid Isolation II) has a beguiling effect: Kana Kimura merely stands in the middle of the stage, her long white dress creating a wide pool about her feet. While her willowy arms undulate, she sways and dips, occasionally twisting on her tiny axis so that the fabric wraps around her legs like a whirlpool. Like Ms. Lang’s Among the Stars—performed at several TITAS Command Performances—fabric plays as big a role as the dancer.
Can a dance be too clever? Apparently yes. In collaboration with architect Steven Holl, Ms. Lang’s 2015 Tesseracts of Time played with time and space, with dance all about ever-changing movement and architecture still and long lasting. The four sections represent both time in the form of the four seasons and space in the sections called “Under,” “In,” “On” and “Over.”
A huge crescent looms over the dancers in “Under,” the structure imposing in its sheer size. The dancers below look like tiny black specs, swaying back and forth like chimes to David Lang’s Anvil Chorus. The crescent turns into cubes as it descends in “In.” Video projections capture images of dancers inside the cube, tucked into ledges or hiding in corners. On the ground, live dancers swirl.
Next is “On” where dancers now clad in white interact with triangular shaped forms, darting in and out, capturing their angles and dropping from them abruptly.
As the triangles ascend in “Over,” the dance becomes more freewheeling, ending with some of the same mechanical but now elongated teeter-totter movement that had begun with “Under.”
To the cynical, Tesseracts of Time could come across as a clever gimmick; to others, inventive. Or both.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.