blackbirdonline journalSpring 2010  Vol. 9  No. 1

Introducing Jessica Lang & Lines Squared

  A Conversation with Jessica Lang  
Lines Squared    

In November 2009, Blackbird’s Mary Flinn met with choreographer Jessica Lang to discuss her work with various dance companies, including her recent Lines Squared, excerpted here in three short parts, which she choreographed for the Richmond Ballet. The commission for the Ballet was a part of Minds Wide Open: Virginia Celebrates Women in the Arts.

Lang’s insightful musings, especially her notion of “rehearsed improvisation,” shed some practical light on the question posed nearly a century ago by W.B. Yeats in “Among School Children.” How can we know the dancer from the dance?

From her distinctly Po-Mo vantage point, Lang suggests use a camcorder. She then describes how just such a strategy worked for her as she developed useful “phrases” for her performers by recording herself on video in order to recognize and/or salvage those fleeting moments of significant invention from the more extensive or chaotic intervals of her own creative process.

Lang notes that eventually new moves assert themselves so forcefully (through enough recorded snippets and the usual enlightenment that flows from trial and error) that the documentary technology is no longer needed (by the teacher, at any rate). Lang points out, “I’ve had so much experience that I don’t use the videotape for myself anymore, and I just improvise in front of the dancers, and I’m confident that something will come out of it.”

Lang also speaks about her work with the Colorado Ballet and her experience as a member of Twyla Tharp’s Dance Company. She provides glimpses into various aspects of her creative process, offers advice on how to gain and keep commissions, and reflects on the state of contemporary and classical ballet.   

In addition to its position as Richmond’s resident company, the Richmond Ballet also performs on tour throughout Virginia and in other U.S. cities, and made its debut appearance at The Joyce Theater in New York City in the spring of 2005. Richmond Ballet returned to The Joyce Theater in April 2007 as a part of a tribute to American master choreographer John Butler. In 2008, the company made its third New York appearance in four years, performing three of Jessica Lang's works during a special event at Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts that celebrated her choreography. It appeared again at the Joyce this spring. The Ballet's performance repertoire includes the classic ballets of the past, significant works of our time, and new works that reflect a variety of modern influences. Blackbird thanks the Richmond Ballet for its help in securing this conversation. More information about the company and their work can be found by going to our links page and visiting their website.

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