Jessica Lang Dance: Mind Over Movement


Imagine a world without written or spoken language. How then, without these seemingly basic

concepts of society, would we be able to express complex ideas and emotions as we are able to

do with our established language? Of course, there are many possible solutions to this

conundrum, but one of the most interesting to think about is the idea of interpretation through


Although New York City-based dance company Jessica Lang Dance has only been officially

active since 2011, the company has put together over 50 performances and has performed at

countless venues around the world. The dynamic, almost surreal choreography that has been

put together by Lang herself has a very distinct style to it – the troupe’s 9 performers can seem

to move at incredible velocities one moment, and be still and silent as a statue the next.

Combine this with soundtracks ranging from classical compositions to modern industrial-type

tracks, and you’ve got yourself a plethora of works that need to be seen in person to be fully


I was lucky enough to have the chance to attend a presentation of five of Jessica Lang’s pieces

at the Zeiterion. The works exhibited allowed the company to demonstrate the full range and

diversity of Lang’s choreographic prowess, as well as to display the stamina, flexibility, and

adaptability of the dancers. The pieces themselves varied greatly in their nature, and combined

more traditional dance and ballet positions with modern techniques seen in most contemporary

dance. The first piece, Lines Cubed (2012), was an apparent homage to De Stijl-era geometric

art, with dancers clad in the classic red, blue, yellow, and black commonly found in De Stijl,

along with a set design reminiscent of the structure of many De Stijl pieces. Another interesting

piece was The Calling (2006), a 3-minute performer consisting of a single dancer seemingly

trapped in an unusually long white gown. Though it would seem that this gown would restrict

their movement, it proved to do quite the opposite, allowing the performer to move fluidly

throughout the piece, and to match the flowing motion of the gown.

The most anticipated piece of the evening, however, was Thousand Yard Stare (2015), a 20-

minute piece choreographed by Lang in collaboration with United States military veterans who

served their country through various wars. The composition of the piece is meant to reflect the

emotions, intensity, and even hopefulness of combat and wartime situations, but in a subtle way

– anything which would bluntly signify war would be missing the point. And not just subtle, the

piece is delicate yet engaging – it begins and ends with a “marching” scenario in which the

performers rigidly march across the stage in time, dropping in, out, and changing direction at

seemingly random intervals. In a pre-show discussion, Lang stated that the costume design is

another important aspect of the piece – from the front, every performer appears to be wearing

identical outfits – much like the military we know – but when viewed from the back, every

dancer’s clothing is printed with a unique drawing or pattern. Individuality – the idea that though

the men and women who serve may appear similar on the outside, each and every soldier is

unique on the inside.

Though the 5 pieces that were performed at the Zeiterion appear at first glance to be completely

unrelated to one another, is there a common theme that could tie them all together? The

answer, I believe, is both yes and no. If we were to take each of these pieces as their own

individual projects, it’s plain to see that there’s not much commonality to be drawn from them –

each one was created at a different time, with a different goal or idea in mind. With this mindset,

they are indeed unrelated. However, if we take a step back to take a look at the bigger picture

behind these pieces, we can see that each was created by Lang to express an idea – whether it

be De Stijl art or the United States Armed Forces. And why shouldn’t we try to express ideas in

a way that we may not be used to at first? Words, no matter what language we may speak, can

only get us so far. Jessica Lang Dance seeks to connect people through dance – a medium that

not many people tend to think of as a vehicle for telling a story. With a dance performance,

however, we’re not constricted by such narrow concepts expressed in our words – we’re free to

interpret how we want. That, I think, is the true beauty behind so many great dance companies,

and especially Jessica Lang Dance.

Jessica Lang’s pieces are not only pleasing to the eye, but offer much to think about when you

consider the ideas that they try to express. I’d love to see Jessica Lang Dance at the Zeiterion

again someday – perhaps by then they will have created even more thought-provoking


  • All
  • Jessica Lang Dance
  • Yamato Drummers

2017-18 SEASON  ////////////////

  • All
  • A Christmas Carol (2016)
  • Capitol Steps
  • Che Malambo
  • Doo Wop
  • The Giver
  • The Moth Mainstage