Fans can expect several highlights during the Jessica Lang Dance company's Houston debut presented by the Society for the Performing Arts. Among them The Calling (seen above) and i.n.k. (video follows). It was soon after the death of her teacher and adviser Benjamin Harkarvy that Jessica Lang created The Calling. Lang studied at the Julliard School under Harkarvy's direction. After she left the school and launched her career, she often sought his advice. Lang says she was in need of that advice when Harkarvy died in 2002. A long delayed letter from Harkarvy gave her what she needed.
"He had just passed," she tells us, "and they were cleaning out his office. When I walked past, they handed me an envelope with a video tape of my choreography that he had and a three-page handwritten letter. I opened it and it had no date, but it had all this guidance and the questions that I wanted to ask him were answered in that letter. I was super emotional. Once I got this letter, I went into the studio and finished this dance in about an hour. It's really personal."
Lang had originally conceived of The Calling, which will be performed in Houston by company member Kana Kimura, as a solo for a male dancer. "I had been thinking of doing a piece with a man ... standing in the middle of the stage and draped in fabric that fell off the edge of the stage. Out of practicality, we ended up making it just a huge skirt because draping the stage would have been a lot of fabric."
Another sure highlight is i.n.k., a piece which incorporates video projections by visual artist Shinichi Maruyama. i.n.k. was inspired by one of Maruyama's images that shows a single drop of water falling into ink, falling in on itself and forming a crown shape in the explosion when the two liquids meet. "I got to know Shinichi really well," Lang tells us, "and he was open to having his images projected on the stage. He's known for throwing water and capturing it on film, photography with such high clarity that you can see the water and ink collide in a way that the naked eye can't see."
Also on the program is Among the Stars. "It's on pointe and it's an investigation of a Japanese folklore. These two stars are in love but they're being punished and the gods let them reunite only once a year, on July 7."
There's also White, a dance on film which Lang created in part to give her dancers a chance to catch their breath during performances. "There are only nine of them and constantly changing costumes, running on and off stage - it's exhausting!" Lang had been wanting to explore film and White seemed the perfect answer. "Capturing slow motion is nothing new but I've overlaid it with motion in regular time and some in double time. When you watch the film you're able to see something that you could never see live, that is slow motion with regular time and double time in the same space."
The program also includes Mendelssohn/Incomplete, a work set to the music of Felix Mendelssohn. The title is literal. "It's not finished. It's one of four pieces that I hope to complete at some point, but each part can stand on its own." Mendelssohn/Incomplete has no narrative, no storyline. "That's something that I like to call pure movement, it's just dance. It's just beautiful movement and beautiful music, and that's beautiful enough. Simple is good sometimes."
Lang's work is informed by classical ballet technique, but solidly based in contemporary sensibility and styling.
"There's a line between modern and classical ballet. My dancers are definitely capable of doing both forms very well and my work kind of straddles the line," she says. "I really value ballet as an art form," "I value classical technique ... but we live in 2013 and of course, I've been influenced by modern dance."
Jessica Lang Dance performs at 8 p.m. Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas Ave. For information, call 713-227-4772 or visit the Society for the Performing Arts website. $23 to $73.