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World-class dance company comes to Wharton

Jessica Lang Dance visits East Lansing as part of its final season


Jessica Lang Dance

Tickets start at $29

7:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 24

Wharton Center

750 E. Shaw Ln., East Lansing


(517) 432-2000

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 23 — Jessica Lang Dance, having won sweeping critical appraisal from The New York Times, The Boston Globe, you name it — is in its twilight. The company, led by the Bessie Award-winning Jessica Lang rolls through the Wharton Center Thursday and several other cities in April as part of its final season.

“The entity of Jessica Lang Dance is sun-setting at this point,” Lang said in a telephone interview. “It's much like the end of a good television series — when you've done what wanted to do and are ready to move in a different direction.”

The New York City-based Jessica Lang Dance, which has been on the road in various seasons since 2011, performs a unique show everywhere it goes, picking from its repertoire of more than a dozen ballets based on what’s offered by the venue and its core audience.

For its performance in East Lansing, Lang’s dancers will open with “Lyric Pieces,” a ballet originally commissioned by the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2012 and later restaged for her own company’s repertoire in 2017. “Lyric Pieces” derives its name from its soundtrack, 10 volumes of piano music by mid-19th century Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. The work received high marks for its innovative use of black, pliable paper props, which dancers effortlessly interact with during their movements.

Following “Lyric Pieces” is “The Calling,” an old signature piece of Lang’s excerpted from the larger “Splendid Isolation II,” originally commissioned by the Ailey II dance theater in 2006. “The Calling” is a solo piece that features a lone woman draped in a white dress dancing to the medieval choral piece “O Maria, Stella Maris.”

And then there’s “Us/We,” a collaboration with artist José Parlá and costume designer Mariah Black created in residency at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign. “Us/We,” which celebrates the interweaving of world cultures with New York City as a backdrop, is rooted in the ideas presented by composer David Lang’s work “The National Anthems,” which blends lines from 193 separate national anthems into a cohesive work.

“It brings us to this beautiful idea of New York City, a patchwork of societies that live among each other,” Lang said. “We take it into the greater landscape of America, demonstrating a passage of time with music.”

But the night will finish on a lighter note with “This Thing Called Love,” a ballet based on the music of Tony Bennett, which premiered in 2018 and was commissioned by the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College.

“It’s a fun, lighthearted and beautiful work,” Lang said.

Lang’s next move is to take her talents in freelance fashion to various companies, starting with the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

“When I work as a guest in someone else's company, or an institution that requires a choreographer, the same kind of connections are made between myself and the dancers,” Lang explained. “The longer you work with someone, the more you find out about them and they find out about you. I don't think either is more rich or more valuable, it's what you take from each opportunity — each creation is different.”


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