Performing Arts

Jessica Lang Dance explores sculpted movement and effects of war in KC debut

“The Calling,” presented in excerpt form, was performed by Julie Fiorenza. This photo is from rehearsal.
“The Calling,” presented in excerpt form, was performed by Julie Fiorenza. This photo is from rehearsal. Harriman-Jewell Series on Facebook

Jessica Lang Dance made its Kansas City debut Saturday night, presented by the Harriman-Jewell Series. Lang’s mix of thematic inspiration, theatrical effects and highly varied movement create intricate, multilayered works, making her a sought-after choreographer and collaborator. Now with her own company of empathetic, seasoned dancers she can deepen relationships and expand her range.

The five-year-old company started its 29-city tour with an innovative, insightful performance in Muriel Kauffman Theatre, beginning with “The Calling,” presented in excerpt form and performed by Julie Fiorenza. In this living sculpture, the dancer, illuminated, wears an expansive white skirt. Confined to subtle twists, her extended arms and fingers are the focus, reaching, flexing, gestures flowing with the winding medieval chant.

Another excerpt featured dancers and shadow in symbiotic partnership. “Droplet,” a collaboration with video artist Shinichi Maruyama, set the dance in front of a bright, full-screen projection of a highly defined, ultra-slow motion falling drop of ink. The tension of this fall, additive phrasing and pull of the duo, and response of the close shadow created a beautiful composite image, set to Jakub Ciupinksi’s original music.

JLD performed two complete works from 2015 for the full company. Nicole Pearce’s lighting design was integral to the emotive quality and visual landscape.

“Thousand Yard Stare” was a sensitive tribute to those who have served in battle and suffer still. Lang created a mesmerizing work of symbolic and revealing movement: stepping together, standing precariously still, leading and carrying, embracing and protecting, falling and crawling, gestures vibrant, weary, steadfast, evoking loyalty, terror, sacrifice, and the many complexities and tensions of individuals at war.

“Tesseracts of Time,” by contrast, featured geometric relationships and dramatic slight of hand, a collaboration with architect Steven Holl, who designed the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s Bloch Building.

In the four movement work, each visual structure representing a different relationship to the ground. “Under” and “In” were set against full screen projections showing fantastical cement shapes, the dancers incorporated in and in front of the image. “On” had large white set pieces danced and hidden in, wide, straight arms with hands hard and sharp like arrowheads. The structures were raised in “Over,” lit a vibrant green against blue background, or colored an orangey-peach inspired by Ayers Rock sunset.

Though the entire concert was only a little more than an hour, total, of dance, it was a testament of Lang’s beautiful and powerful creative vision.