Dancing Tesseracts and the Visuals of Jessica Lang


“Tesseracts of Time” by Jessica Lang Dance Co. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The imagery of Jessica Lang’s The Calling is simple, yet, arresting. A single dancer moves in the center a giant cream dress that expands into the reaches of the solitary spotlight. As the dancer spirals and reaches out into the expanse of space beyond the light, the dress contracts and then breaths out again, almost as if it were an extension of the dancer’s life force. The image is majestic without being overbearing, and conveys a sense of solitariness that’s as bone-chilling as it is beautiful. Lang has a penchant for the visually stimulating, but on May 20 that passion for creating long-lasting images through dance theater will be magnified tenfold. Jessica Lang Dance brings to Houston its newest work, Tessarects of Time at the Wortham Center’s Cullen Theater at 8 pm.

Tesseract is geometric terminology and references the aesthetic of this collaboration between Lang and noted architect Stephen Holl. The work was the result of a commission by the Chicago Architecture Biannual when Lang’s company was in the process of being booked by Chicago’s Harris Theater. After accepting the invitation to create a work with an architectural component, she was paired with Mr. Holl. “We met in New York in his office, and we hit it off right away,” says Lang. “We established the concept at the very first meeting, one that explores the four types of architecture: under the ground, in the ground, on the ground, and over the ground.”

Tesseracts .is grand in scope, with each movement accompanied by Holl’s large-scale set design. In the first section, dancers beneath an ominous sculpture projected above them, and in the third section, tesseract-like sculptures fill the stage, creating a web of interesting geometric configurations that surround the liquid, streamlined movement. Finally, the shapes take flight, and the dancers find themselves beneath the central image once again. “The first three movements are black-and-white, and the final one is in color,” she explains. “The work goes full circle, and we find ourselves in the created world.”

Holl’s work resonated with Lang not just as a collaborator, but as a creator who appreciates the beauty that surrounds her. “In Stephen’s work, I see something beyond its purpose,” she says. “It’s a building; it’s purpose is to contact the space for whatever it’s used for. But it’s also poetry, symmetry and asymmetry. His work is really about the human experience.”

“Tesseracts of Time” by Jessica Lang Dance Co. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Lang’s work is typically characterized by its sharp sense of musicality and gorgeous fluidity. She found Holl’s bold lines and concrete sense of space to be complementary to her work. “It’s who you are; it’s you’re handwriting,” she explains. “It’s in my nature to respond in those ways.” The musicality she works from is not hummable or melodic, as she explains, even though much of the music she chooses has those qualities. “It’s rhythmic, and inspires true physicality, which I enjoy responding to.”

The creation of Tessarects was in line with Lang’s artistic process. Her dances are deeply rooted in concepts and ideas; she never enters the studio and begins moving without either. When she begins creating, most of the elements are in place, from music to costumes to ideas about lighting and visual elements. “Sometimes there’s a piece missing, but I trust that it will come as the process is under way,” she says. It wasn’t hard to develop thematic material from architecture. “The movement is established around the theme, and for this dance Stephen and his architecture were the theme.”

Also on the May 20th program is the aforementioned The Calling; Solo Bach, originally commissioned by the Global Dance School – Japan; Sweet Silent Thought; and Thousand Yard Sale. The last two premiered in 2016, so most Houston dance fans will be seeing them for the first time.

The company comes back to Houston as part of the Society for the Performing Arts’ 50th Anniversary season. Anyone who has seen Jessica Lang’s work is familiar with broad reach and appeal. “I’m not esoterically tied to creating work that has to be described or read about before being seen,” she says. “You just sit down and experience it.” For Lang, this is a testament to the importance of the work that she is doing. “There is a need for this in the world that we live in because technology and politics are big distractions,” she says. “It’s important to stop and both look at and hear the beauty that is around us.”

Society for the Performing Arts presents Jessica Lang Dance’s Tessarects of Time at the Wortham Center’s Cullen Theater on May 20 at 8 pm. Tickets and more information at spahouston.org.

Adam Castaneda is a dancer, writer, and arts administrator. He is the Executive/Artistic Director of FrenetiCore, and performs with Suchu Dance, the Pilot Dance Project, Bones and Memory Dance, and Holding Space Dance Collective.


About the Author

Adam Castañeda is a dancer and arts administrator in Houston, Texas. He is the Executive and Artistic Director of the Pilot Dance Project, a non-profit arts organization with the mission to empower and transform communities through innovative dance, theater, and visual art. With his company he has performed in evening-length works by Ashley Horn, jhon r. stronks, Jennifer Mabus, Jaime Walne-Fruge, and Heather VonReichbauer. When not with the Pilot Dance Project, he enjoys performing with Suchu Dance/Jennifer Wood.

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