The Setup: In case you haven't heard, the Society for the Performing Arts has pulled out all the stops for Houston dance lovers thanks to the underwriting of Phoebe and Bobby Tudor. The Tudor Family Great American Dance Series will bring such esteemed companies as the Paul Taylor Dance Company (October 12) and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (March 14-15) to Houston over the course of the 2013-2014 season, but first up is Jessica Lang Dance, which performed to a healthy crowd last Friday. Beauty abounded for those inside the Wortham Center's Cullen Theater.
The Execution: From the first piece on the program, it is clear that Jessica Lang's choreography is defined by a heightened sense of musicality. In Lines Cubed, nine dancers enter the stage and intersect one another and move their limbs in rigid lines; sometimes hands are flexed, sometimes the arms are bent at the elbows, but never does any measure of roundness sneak into their bodies. The outstretched arms and measured steps create a geometric grid that flows from one side of the stage to the other. But even though this is clearly geometry in motion, there is a palpable organic quality in the movement that is due a finite interpretation of the music.
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Lines Cubed consists of five movements. The middle three are defined by the colors that permeate the stage through costuming and lighting: red, yellow, and blue. The dancers in red moved with warm-blooded stealth and intrigue while the dancers in yellow flit hummingbird-like in sprightly sauté arabesques, flighty chassé leaps, and micro-movement pas de bourrées. Blue features a pas de deux that is as soulful and rich as an early evening sky. The music's tempo changes with the colors, but each shift is matched by a precise change in movement.
The reach of Lang's sensitivity to music even extends to the stationary. In The Calling, an excerpt from her Splendid Isolation II, a lone dancer stands in the center of a large white dress. Or to be more accurate, she's wearing the center of a large white dress. The fabric covers a hefty portion of the stage, and is manipulated by the simple commands of the dancer.
As she turns, wrapping the fabric around her legs, the white sphere shrinks into itself. When she pliés, the fabric becomes quicksand as it sucks her down into the ground. Her body contracts, her spine flexes, and her sternum reaches towards the heavens. She is a body breaking, and then healing itself it seems. The result is a startling resurrection that one watches spellbound.
The Verdict: Those shapes, those lines, that amazing ability to fuse flesh-and-blood bodies with immaterial music - the aesthetics of Jessica Lang Dance is pure gorgeousness. In a world filled with so much ugliness, there's much to be said about dances that make the world a more beautiful place to live.