Choreographer Jessica Lang Finds Inspiration in Arizona Landscape

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Her recent Arizona adventures included a two-week residency at the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts in Wickenburg, where she completed the creation of movement for her first full-length story ballet called The Wanderer. While there, she also worked with designers for sets, costumes, and lighting.

The Wanderer is a one-act, 65-minute ballet with live music from Franz Schubert's song cycle Die schöne Müellerin, which is based on early 19th century poetry by Wilhelm Müller. Jessica Lang Dance performs the world première of The Wanderer at Brooklyn Academy of Music in early December.

When Lang landed in Wickenburg, she'd yet to finalize movement or design elements. The Made in Wickenburg Residency Program made all those finishing touches, including elements that reflect the Arizona landscape, possible. "The desert plants are very gorgeous," says Lang. "There's no prettier skies than Arizona skies."

When lighting designer Nicole Pearce joined Lang in Wickenburg, they rose before dawn to watch the colors of the sunrise, and watched the sunset, too. When lighting the piece, they "took an actual day and the progression of light but an abstraction of that thought." Portions of The Wanderer are infused with lighting in various blues and greens. Yet for much of the work, it's the green of a single ribbon at the heart of the tale that prevails.

The Wanderer cast includes three men and five women who portray four characters and four "others." The wanderer, she says, is like a poet looking for love. The brook is a mystical creature that brings him to the mill. The miller's daughter is youthful and mysterious. And it's the hunter, not the wanderer, who wins her love.

Her set for The Wanderer, designed by Mimi Lien, features "five trees with very long trunks" made with 2,700 yards of white string. Lang sees parallels between the trees, which populate the black, grey, and white world of The Wanderer, and Arizona plants bearing long, thin spines. They're able to stretch the trees out through the space, she says, and "draw with string in the space." Dancers manipulate the set, according to Lang. "Eventually the dancers tie them together into one large tree."

Costumes for The Wanderer have what Lang calls "a contemporary vibe." Think knitwear that stretches as the dancer moves, and looks much like clothing we're accustomed to seeing everyday. One key character, the hunter, dons punk-inspired fare. Costumes were designed by Bradon McDonald, a contestant on season 12 of the TV series Project Runway.

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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble