Guest Blog: Jessica Lang Inspires Students to Think Inside the Box (or Book)

One of the highlights during our daily classes at American Ballet Theatre this semester is the chance to work with choreographer Jessica Lang. Her works have been performed throughout the country and abroad, and she has created and restaged her pieces on ABT, Colorado Ballet, Richmond Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet and many others.

We spent one week with Lang experimenting with choreographic cues, timing, phrasing, and inverting and reversing movement phrases, in addition to asking her about what it’s like to work as a choreographer and about her personal creative process.

Our first assignment from Lang is to turn in “A Box or A Book,” a place where we will organize all of our thoughts about the piece we are to choreograph over the course of the semester. Lang’s syllabus reads: “If you have a box or a book, put anything that inspires you on your path to creation … put music, photos, images, poetry, drawings, art, fabric swatches, colors, etc. Anything that would help you to articulate your idea for the end result of a fully realized piece should go into the box/book.”

In October, we will present the contents of this box/book to our classmates, and then our final project is to create a two- to three-minute piece and teach it to students from ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

The idea of collecting thoughts and ideas in a book or box is intriguing, almost like having a little treasure trove to dig into. And, if you don’t use all the ideas at once, you have them saved in one place to help inspire additional pieces at a later date. If you’re curious, Lang uses a book. But if you want to use a box, like Twyla Tharp does, I found out that it is a great excuse to go out and buy a new pair of shoes – because who has boxes lying around their apartment? I don’t … or didn’t, rather.

Hannah Guruianu is a master's degree candidate in dance education at New York University. She is a freelance writer and editor, flamenco student, and someday hopes to own her own studio. Before returning to school, she was the features editor at the newspaper in Binghamton, New York, and taught ballet classes at a local studio and community college.

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