Chicago-born T. Lang is a dance professor at Spelman College and the artistic director of T. Lang Dance, a company that has had incarnations in Chicago and New York but currently calls Atlanta home. This week she premieres Post Up, a 40-minute, multimedia work for eight dancers, featuring original music and videography. Against the backdrop of what Lang calls the “nostalgic, powerful, glorious and very special” Goodson Yard at the Goat Farm Arts Center, the work ventures into territory that for her feels frightening and personal. Performances run Friday through Sunday, June 6–8 and tickets may be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets.
Lang presented an excerpt of Post Up in the fall of 2013 to Atlanta audiences at the Fabrefaction Theatre Company. Since then, the piece grew to include the visions of her collaborators and colleagues at Spelman. Profound inspiration also came from literature devoted to stories and efforts of post–Civil War freed slaves who sought, with varying success, reconnections to displaced family members.
ArtsATL met with the comfortably-dressed, pensive and remarkably calm Lang in her Spelman studio, just before a rehearsal.
ArtsATL: Exactly two years ago you premiered a historically driven, evening-length work, Mother/Mutha; what was your springboard for Post Up?
T. Lang: It comes from my optimism, my erratic hope to be reunited with my father and other loved ones who have passed. It stems from the delusion, or that fantasy, that you can find yourself through someone else. Since losing my father I have been feeling unstable and displaced and live in the hope that he will still walk through the door. It comes from a place of desire and vulnerability.
One afternoon I shared these ideas with my colleague and office mate, Dr. Michelle Hite, who is an English professor here at Spelman, and she put me on this book called Help Me to Find My People. This book focuses on newspaper postings by freed slaves who were searching for their loved ones.
ArtsATL: Is that how you found your title?
Lang: Yeah, I always like using a play on words. I think that’s the hip-hop era that I grew up in. In this book, these ads were very detailed and would explain where someone was sold, what name they were given, where they lived, maybe even what they wore. Newly freed slaves would recuperate their identities by finding their loved ones. I learned that what I was feeling was not new. I am not the only one who felt or feels the need to seek. I wanted to do a work that honors that idea, that helps me heal.
ArtsATL: What compelled your first day of rehearsal? What was foremost on your mind?
Lang: I wanted to play with a vocabulary that was completely distorted and had no logic. This was the challenge, to be nonlinear.
ArtsATL: As the work stands now, following nine months of rehearsal, do you see something that leans toward autobiography, or something more universal, more historic?
Lang: I see it both ways. With all the works I’ve done, there is the sense of me, Tracy, inside. The beauty of dance rests on our interconnections and how we interpret ideas so differently from place to place. I want to add shared experiences, to bring folks together. If people don’t understand everything, they will still bring their experiences into the space.
ArtsATL: You’ve had several collaborators on this project. Through their contributions, how did the project shift?
Lang: I am working with John Osborn, a musician I met at the American Dance Festival. He is crazy, in that fantastic, artistic way. He takes risks in his work. He pushes the envelope. He can make music out of anything, and that is exciting to me.
Our videographer, Deigratia Daniels, created images that will be projected on netting that surrounds the performance area. The images will be cast upon these screens and the dancers’ bodies. He captured my dreams: lots of white light, pulses of light, rain, mazelike designs. His images suggest maneuvering through time and the journey of getting to someone. I often wake up crying after I dream about my father. I think my collaborators captured these feelings.
ArtsATL: With such emotionally charged material, how were you able to objectify the rehearsal process?
Lang: It was traumatic [she laughs] and it may sound like a therapy session, but the process was always about the work, the craftsmanship, the video design, the music. The emotions came out more strongly when I focused on what I was making in the moment, and less on where the ideas came from.
ArtsATL: Who are your dancers, meaning, what do they represent?
Lang: They are the folks in the book with endearing stories. They are glimpses of myself with a through-line of optimism. They also bring their own stories into the work.
ArtsATL: With this work, do you feel your voice is more solidly rooted or that you are more exploratory?
Lang: I am definitely more exploratory. I am frightened by artists who think or even say, “I have arrived.” As a professor, I have to be careful of being complacent. I love investigating my own voice. This particular voyage into vulnerability was daring for me. It made me feel uneasy. I can say now that I am stronger, I feel bold because I put this out there. I learned to trust the power of community.