If the greatest act of rebellion is love, Sally Jacques is the perfect visionary to inspire us to love our planet, and each other, more fiercely.
By Jen Ramos Perkins, Photos by Earl McGehee
Transcendent. Transformative. Breathtaking. Ethereal.
Pain. Sorrow. Grief. Longing. Wonder. Joy. Hope. Love.
Blue Lapis Light is a dance company that challenges physical limitations by using aerial techniques informed by classical, modern and interpretive dance styles. Their stated mission is to create transcendent works of beauty that are offered, without religious denomination, as prayers for the planet. Sally Jacques has more than accomplished this with the latest installment of Belonging at Seaholm Power Plant.
Debuting in the Austin arts scene in 2017, Belonging employs beautiful lighting, ethereal soundscapes, poignant image projection and dazzling ground and aerial dance to explore our interdependence and relationship with our planet and each other. It highlights what happens to citizens of the Earth when their lives are upended by disasters caused by our own greed, self-interest and disregard for each other and Mother Earth. Jacques, founder and artistic director of Blue Lapis Light, dedicated this year’s performance to environmental and human rights organizations and activists who have lost their lives, to the hundreds of poached animals killed every year in Africa, to all the communities and wildlife devastated by climate change caused “natural” disasters and to those starving from famine around the globe, and to the thousands of individuals who have lost their loved ones to gun violence in the first half of 2022.
These soul-wrenching prayers are interpreted with stunning grace and beauty by the skilled dancers of Blue Lapis Light against the backdrop of the Seaholm Power Plan. The plant became obsolete in the 20th century with the introduction of new forms of gas, solar and nuclear energy. It was repurposed by Seaholm Power, LLC, in 2016 as a mixed-use residential and commercial complex. With its history as a symbol of consumption and decline and its current state of rebirth and grandeur, it seems the perfect backdrop for Belonging’s message. Alex Soto of Ilios creates true magic with his lighting design. Throughout the performance, he lights the plant’s smoke stacks and garage in blues and purples reminiscent of our earth’s oceans and the heavens.
The performance opens with Chris Rusch’s “Beautiful Earth” projected onto the Seaholm parking garage. Images of Mother Earth’s grandeur in fertile fields, green forests, vast oceans and the majestic animals that inhabit them roll by, with accompaniment from the soul-stirring soundtrack of resident sound designer William Meadows. The images shift to those of the earth devastated by fire and flood and children picking through the rubble of cities ravaged by war.
Enter Jun “Sunny” Shen and his ensemble at the foot of the stacks, moving with sorrow, grief and longing in the opening dance, “Separation.” You feel the pain of loss as the dancers move away from, then stretch their arms out for one another, the audience and the sky. As the lights dim on the ensemble, dancers appear in the windows of the parking garage and gracefully flow down the sides of the building like swans, defying gravity, in the “Tribute” sequence. Back to the floor ensemble in “Escaping,” you feel the confusion of refugees on an unknown journey, the pain of loneliness in the solo piece “Remaining” and the fear refugees face in “Facing the Unknown.”
The window dancers take us to “A New Place,” then prepare us for the beautiful and surreal “Grace in the Shadows” as two dancers soar like angels from the smokestacks. Here, the costume design of Lindsey Gerson is particularly striking: the stack dancers’ dresses flow like wings, the windows dancers’ silver costumes almost melt into the concrete of the parking garage, the focus on the movement of their limbs, emphasized by their shadows, and the ensemble’s neutral grays absorb the slightest hint of color from the lighting.
Shen and Anika Jones-Schoenbaum flow together in “Love Heals Us,” a duet that embodies what it feels like to belong, to be loved, to be seen. The vast universe opens up with the window dancer’s “Unraveling/Revealing” leading to reverence in “A Prayer.” The stack dancer quartet has all eyes on the heavens with “Universal Awakening/Understanding Our Relationship to Nature.” One begins to feel the awesomeness of their own tiny piece of belonging and importance in the design of this life. The performance concludes in a blossom of hope and renewal with the floor ensemble’s “Honoring the Earth.”
Blue Lapis Light says it is committed to challenging physical limitations and inspiring audiences with a sense of wonder. The reactions from the audience throughout the show prove that the company is doing just that.