By Ken Keuffel
BOONE, N.C.—For famed choreographer Jessica Lang, a performance of her dance works should be “much like serving a meal.”
“You’re not having three courses of the same thing,” she said in advance of Jessica Lang Dance’s Feb. 8 performance at Appalachian State University. “You walk away from the experience feeling satisfied because there was variety offered.”
Lang is the choreographer and artistic director for Jessica Lang Dance, a Long Island City-based company that she founded in 2011. She has certainly planned a filling eclectic “menu” for her company’s concert in Boone, which is part of the “The Schaefer Center Presents” series at the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts on Appalachian’s campus. Among other things, there will be a duet inspired by Asian folklore, a pure movement piece set to a Mendelssohn piano trio, an evocation of soldiers fighting a war, and a solo work in which a woman will perform while wearing a gigantic white skirt.
Along the way, the program should illustrate that if Lang has the sensibilities of a gourmet, she also has the eye of a painter or sculptor: Arresting visuals often complement the choreography that she creates, in everything from costumes to sets.
“It’s not only dance,” said Lang of her work.
Lang’s program in Boone will begin with “Lines Cubed,” a popular piece from 2012 that is inspired by geometric lines and shapes. It is for four women and five men, and John Metcalfe and Thomas Metcalf composed its music. Writing in “Dance Magazine,” critic Tresca Weinstein likened “Lines Cube” to “the physical embodiment of a Mondrian color-block painting.”
“The clever set design (on which Lang collaborated with Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen) divides the stage and backdrop into panels of white and primary color,” Weinstein wrote. “Lang organizes the dance in a similarly crisp fashion, with each section marked by the hue of the lighting and costumes…Lang draws the piece to a close with a picture-perfect tableau: a symmetrical arrangement of the full ensemble, each color represented.”
As for “The Calling,” that piece for a dancer in a gigantic white skirt, Lang promised a “comic image” with a range of revelations.
“The dancer works very hard to be one with the fabric,” she said.
Closing the program will be “Thousand Yard Stare,” Lang’s evocation of war for multiple male and female dancers. Lang interviewed several veterans of war and learned more about PTSD as she created “Thousand Yard Stare.” The title refers to “the blank and bewildered gaze of a shell-shocked soldier,” wrote Laura Bleiberg in a 2016 review for The Los Angeles Times.
The dancers, moving to the “Adagio” movement from Beethoven’s “String Quartet No. 15,” create “a zombie-like procession” as they march, Bleiberg wrote. “They are knocked over, and reverberations of bombs catapult them into remarkable body-twisting leaps. The dancers crawl and clump together to form tunnels. There is fear, cowering and compassion among comrades, an echo of the gentleness in Beethoven’s somber String Quartet No. 15.”
Lang said she dedicated “Thousand Yard Stare” to all those affected by war, particularly veterans, whom she encouraged to take in the performance. “It’s very poignant,” she said.
Jessica Lang Dance’s appearance at Appalachian is part of the South Arts Dance Touring Initiative; see http://www.southarts.org/touring-arts/dance-touring-initiative for more information. It includes numerous master classes for students in Appalachian’s Department of Theatre and Dance, on Feb. 6 and 7. Students in the following courses will participate: Modern I, Modern II, Exploring Arts Through Dance, Jazz I, Ballet I, Ballet II, Choreography, Advanced Modern Techniques, Composition and Improve and Capstone Senior Class.
Appalachian State University’s series “The Schaefer Center Presents” continues its 2016-17 season with a performance by Jessica Lang Dance on Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m. in the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts. Founded by world-renowned choreographer Jessica Lang in 2011, Jessica Lang Dance’s work is a brilliant blend of dance and visual art. Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for faculty/staff and retired faculty/staff and $10 for students. For more information, call the Schaefer Center Box Office at 800-841-ARTS (2787) or 828-262-4046, or visit http://theschaefercenter.org.
About the Residency
This performance is part of a collaborative project with the South Arts Dance Touring Initiative, involving residency activities by Jessica Lang Dance Feb. 6-8. These activities have been made possible by generous funding support from South Arts, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Company members will hold master classes and meet with dance students at Appalachian and in community studios.
About “The Schaefer Center Presents”
“The Schaefer Center Presents” is a series offering students, faculty, staff and the community a diverse array of music, dance, theatre and film, designed to enrich the cultural landscape of the campus and surrounding area. By creating memorable performance experiences and related educational and outreach activities, the series promotes the power and excitement of the live performance experience; provides a “window on the world” through the artistry of nationally and internationally renowned artists; and showcases some of the finest artists of our nation and our region. Musical events range from symphony orchestra and chamber music performances to jazz, folk, traditional, international and popular artists. Theatre productions run the gamut from serious drama to musical comedy. Dance performances offer an equally wide array of styles, from ballet to modern dance to international companies representing cultural traditions from around the world. For more information, visit http://theschaefercenter.org.
About Appalachian State University
Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.