Forty years ago, Jessica Lang started out on her path as a 3-year-old, learning to dance in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. She soon graduated to classes at the Pennsylvania Ballet in Philadelphia.
“As a child, I kind of grew up in the car, driving back and forth between dance lessons,” she said.
She went to New York to study at Julliard and never looked back. Seven years ago, she started Jessica Lang Dance, winning accolades and awards (including a Bessie Award in 2014) for her theatrical choreography.
A few years ago, the company began planning to put down roots with its own building in New York. Although that never happened, her company did thrive for seven seasons.
“I’m so proud of what we accomplished. It really is a remarkable success story,” said Lang in the green room of the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania, preparing her company for its weekend performances in Philadelphia. “We really created something special.”
The company will dissolve at the end of April.
Lang said she wants to go back to creating dance full time, as she did before assuming the responsibilities of running a company. She and her dancers are midway through a tour of 19 cities across America.
As her company is winding down, Lang herself is not: The Philadelphia performances co-presented by NextMove Dance will include a world premiere, “us/we,” a collaborative effort between herself, artist Jose Parla, and costume designer Mariah Black. The three put together a multi-media theatrical experience on the theme of unity among diverse people.
The dance begins and ends with excerpts from “national anthems” by David Lang (no relation), wherein the composer plucked lines from 193 national anthems from around the world, and cobbled them into one choral work.
“We also take sounds of the city we live in – New York City and the five boroughs – to bring a more urban history of time,” said Jessica Lang. “You’ll hear street conversation and music from cars, noise that is a symphony of the city.”
When Lang collaborates with other artists on a performance, working out the choreography usually comes last. First comes the landscape of ideas the dancers will inhabit.
“Movement is endless and infinite. If I don’t give myself a boundary to work within, I’ll get lost,” she said. “I’ll make a run-on sentence that never stops. I’m not interested in movement in that way. I’m interested in artistic experiences that lend themselves to have a physical reaction.”
Some of the new movements are recycled, older gestures that have been reversed, twisted, and manipulated into something that looks new but is already known by the bodies of her dancers.
Lang said she intends to continue professional relationships with her troupe after the company folds. As for herself, she already has choreography gigs lined up after the company’s expiration date.
“That’s who I am. I am a creator. And so, with the support of everyone who helped me build this organization, we all want me to go back to focusing completely on creative,” she said.