Q&A: Jessica Lang

Photo: Takao Komaru
Photo: Takao Komaru

The choreographer on her collaboration with visual artist Shinichi Maruyama and the Dallas debut of Jessica Lang Dance.

Known as one of the most exciting new contemporary ballet companies touring today, Jessica Lang Dance (JLD) will make its Dallas debut on Saturday, Sept. 14 at the Winspear Opera House as the opening performance of TITAS’ 2013-’14 season.

This one-night only performance features collaborations with Japanese visual artist Shinichi Maruyama, composer Jakub Ciupinski and Vancouver-based design firm Molo. Lang will also be giving a salon lecture as part of the Shinichi Marayama’s artwork exhibition at The Crow Collection of Asian Art on September 4. The exhibition runs through Nov. 3.

Lang is a graduate of The Juilliard School under the direction of Benjamin Harkarvy and a former member of Twyla Tharp’s company, THARP! She has created more than 80 works for companies, including Birmingham Royal Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Colorado Ballet, Ballet San Jose, Richmond Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet and many more.

Lang founded JLD in 2011 with the goal of performing dance works associated with music, opera and mixed media compositions that deliver an organic blend of classical and contemporary styles, according to a TITAS press release.

She recently directed and choreographed Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater for the Glimmerglass Opera Festival and premiered her new work, Within the Space I Hold, at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. She is currently on faculty at the American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and is also a teaching artist for the Make A Ballet program.

TheaterJones asks Jessica Lang about collaborating with Shinichi Maruyama, her company’s growing success and the lack of female choreographers in the ballet field.

TheaterJones: What is your relationship with TITAS and the Dallas dance scene?

Jessica Lang: Well, I have worked with Booker T. Washington, SMU [Southern Methodist University] and TCU [Texas Christian University] many times and my work has been presented four times with TITAS for the Command Performance. So, my work has been down there, but never in the capacity of with my company because it is so new.

What was your motivation for starting Jessica Lang Dance?

Starting my company was something that had been a long time thought, but is a real commitment. It was just something that a whole bunch of good things happened that made it possible, including getting a grant as well as patron and individual support. But most importantly it was having the desire within myself to see what it would be like to go to the same group of dancers and create on them. I had gotten so use to shifting who my artists were that I had a strong desire to see what would happen if I put together my own group of artists to create within.

Can you tell me about your collaboration with Shinichi Maruyama and the Crow Collection of Asian Art?

Yes! Visual artist Shinichi Maruyama and I met in 2011. It was at the same point I was starting my company and I had the desire to collaborate with him on his favorite print work called “Kusho,” which is currently on exhibit at the Crow Collection. Basically, the technique to get those prints is done through video and really capturing things you can’t see with the naked eye. I saw the video of how he gets his prints and I was like well could I use that for dance and he said “absolutely.” So, we went into the studio and he drew more water and more ink. Every movement we have is created for dance specifically, but it uses the same technique that he uses to capture his print work.

I will also be leading a discussion at the Crow Collection about how our relationship evolved, his techniques and how we worked together. Also, we have another piece that we made called White which is a film that follows the evolution of how our craft collection has grown and how we went about making the art that we’re presenting in Dallas.

This will be your company’s first time performing in Dallas. What can the audience expect to see?

Photo: Courtesy Jessica Lang Dance
Photo: Courtesy Jessica Lang Dance

We are going to start the program with a short piece called The Calling which is a solo that has a giant white skirt and the Dallas audience has seen this skirt before at the TITAS Command Performance. A couple of times it has been presented in a duet form. The very first piece I ever made was this skirt, which is a very simple piece, but quite striking. We then go into a piece called Lines Cubed which is inspired by Piet Mondrian’s artwork. Then we go into Mendelssohn/Incomplete to the Mendelssohn Piano Trio in D minor, which is just a beautiful, shorter piece that I like to call pure dance. Then former Ailey dancer Clifton Brown and Laura Mead will be performing Among the Stars, which was originally commissioned by TITAS and presented in 2010 for the Command Performance. After intermission we come back with a very vibrant joyous piece called A Solo in Nine Parts, which is a work that introduces each dancer to the audience through nine solos, and then we finish the program with the collaboration I was telling you about with Shinichi Maruyama.

Do you have any formal training in visual art?

I didn’t study formally any kind of art besides dance and music, but my father is an artist and I just grew up around visual art so I think it is in my genetic makeup.

What inspires you musically?

Anything really. I mean we really have a diverse program. It’s my taste across the board. I like many types of sound and I am inspired by a lot of different genres of music so, the audience will feel a diverse spread of my tastes. Hopefully, someone will walk away liking something.

What makes your movement so appealing to audiences?

Photo: Takao Komaru
Photo: Takao Komaru

I think it’s the universal themes and images. I think my movement is human in a way that it reaches out to the everyday person and it’s not meant to confuse. I really believe that dance should be for everyone and it shouldn’t be something you need a strong background in understanding movement to appreciate. It should be something anyone can be inspired by and find interesting.

What did you take away from your time with Twyla’s company?

It was a really great experience at that time of my life. I learned a lot about business from watching her and understanding how she worked within the field and how she established herself as a really powerful woman in this country. I feel that is something I carry with me today.

What are your thoughts on the lack of female choreographers in today’s modern and ballet fields?

It’s not really rare in modern dance because we have strong roots and iconic women like Martha Graham and Trisha Brown. I think the direr situation is in the ballet world. I have worked with American Ballet Theatre since the inception of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and have choreographed on the company since 1999 and so I have seen what is lacking in their training. Why aren’t little girls growing up with more desire to be creative? I think across the board the ballet curriculum needs to incorporate some sort of creativity. I know a lot of people in the ballet world just think that when you’re done dancing you become a choreographer, but I think that you naturally are a choreographer. It’s not something that can necessarily be taught, but it can be honed and refined much earlier than at the end of your performing career.

Originally posted on TheaterJones.com.


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