Defying gravity: Jessica Lang Dance

What do you do after you’ve danced with Twyla Tharp’s internationally renowned company?

Or created 75 new works for some of the most prestigious dance companies in the world?

Or won dozens of major grants and commissions?

How do you follow acts like that?

Jessica Lang had the answer: She started her own dance company.

Jessica Lang Dance, founded in 2011 and debuting this past summer, is making New Orleans one of its first stops with performances Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts.

Presented by the New Orleans Ballet Association and NOCCA, Lang’s company of nine dancers will perform three shows and half a dozen dance pieces, one of which — in a short film — will defy the laws of gravity.

One of America’s most sought-after choreographers and a Juilliard School graduate, Lang counts among her credits works created for the Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Birmingham (U.K.) Royal Ballet, Alvin Ailey II and the ballet companies of at least half a dozen American cities and states.

Her eponymous dance company made its debut just half a year ago at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts, “the dance center of the nation” according to The New York Times, and the nation’s longest-running dance festival.

They will perform there again in August.

Lang is proud of what her small company has accomplished in such a short time and is excited about having her own company after more than a dozen years of working for other people.

“It’s a great feeling, and I’m thrilled to be able to do this,” she said. “A lot of good things happened to allow this company to begin, and we’re making it work.”

The dance numbers, all of them original, will showcase the performers’ versatility in a variety of settings and styles, ranging from traditional en pointe to the more contemporary forms.

Colorful and imaginative backdrops and costumes, along with the pre-recorded music, will reflect the dances’ themes.

The opening piece, featuring the full ensemble, is titled “Lines Cubed” and is inspired by the color-block paintings of Piet Mondrian.

Lang, a designer as well as a choreographer, makes use of three-dimensional, corrugated “molo” paper designs that she describes as “organizing the work in sections using Mondrian’s primary colors of black, red, yellow and blue.” Another piece, featuring a trio of dancers, is set to the music of Felix Mendelssohn.

The piece-de-resistance of the evening is the work simply titled “White.”

It is a gravity-defying, eight-minute video that uses special effects and differing speeds to make the dancers appear to be “suspended in the air for longer than is humanly possible,” according to Lang.

Backed by the music of Edvard Grieg, Lang, along with Japanese visual artist Shinichi Maruyama, experimented with speed, slow motion and real time to create these otherwise unreal images.

Dancers are layered over each other, with some moving in slow motion, some moving in real time and some moving super-fast to interact and partner perfectly.

When asked if the audience might feel shortchanged by seeing what is essentially a PhotoShop visual presentation rather than a live performance, Lang explained that it is actually “an eight-minute break” for the members of her company.

“The film acts as a transition that keeps the audience engaged and entertained while our dancers rest and change costumes,” she said.

“The Calling,” another one of the pieces, features a solo dancer in a 20-foot-long white skirt that pools around her feet, giving the appearance of a giant morning glory with a human body attached. “Among the Stars” is an en pointe duet that, along with “The Calling,” makes symbolic use of colorful, translucent fabric.

“i.n.k.,” featuring the whole ensemble, blends the dancers interacting with slow motion visual projections of ink flying through the air and colliding with drops of water.

Commenting on her company’s New Orleans debut, Lang said, “We’re really excited to be coming here and making New Orleans one of the first stops on our current tour. Our dancers are all great and we’re looking forward to putting on a memorable show.”

Dean Shapiro is a contributing writer. He can be reached at deanslist2@aol.com.