Requiem

Arts Review

Requiem

Intel Building, through June 24

Running time: 50 min

A figure stands on an upper floor of an unfinished building, toes gracing the lip of a concrete ledge that is, like every part of the great gray structure, open to the air. Even though we are four stories below and many yards away, we can sense the anticipation in this person, those toes curled, her muscles tensing for action. Then suddenly, she leaps from the safety of the ledge into the thick summer air. It's the kind of act that seizes a viewer, stopping the intake of breath, all but stopping the flow of blood. The recklessness of it, the risk, flying – quite literally – to what could be her death, even if she is secured to the building with a cable. It astounds us. And yet equally stunning is the way this figure transforms once she is airborne. Her limbs extend in liquid gestures, her form traces an arc as perfect as a rainbow's. She moves with the natural grace of a creature born to the air.

Sally Jacques is at it again. For several years now, this Austin choreographer has been incorporating more and more aerial dance into her works, creating movement of uncanny beauty and elegance with performers suspended by cables and hanging off scaffolds and dangling from bars high above the earth. Over that time, the ways in which her dancers defy gravity – and, it may be said, death, as they work at great heights without nets beneath them – have grown familiar, but because her work is site-specific, the space can alter what they convey to us. The past four projects have all been indoors, in expansive spaces such as warehouses and an airplane hangar that are suggestive of openness and yet also contained. In Requiem, Jacques has moved back outdoors, and it is as if these previous works have been turned inside out. The walls, ceiling, and concrete floor on which the dancers moved – and on which we audience members watched them move – are now themselves contained, and we and the dancers are outside them. We witness them move from its inside to its edges and beyond, dancing up and down its exposed pillars, bouncing off its concrete framework into the true vastness of the heavens. This time out, the daredevils of Jacques' Blue Lapis Light projects exhibit a liberation and connection to the natural world that wasn't as evident indoors and maybe couldn't have been. We see them breaking free of limitations and engaged in a dance with the vast sacred night.

Their dance, as Requiem's title suggests, is also with death. The principal performers – Laura Cannon, Theresa Hardy, Nicole Whiteside, and Mimi Kayl-Vaughan, all impossibly bold and fluid – hang from the edges of the building, swing out from its sides, and twirl in the void over our heads such that we worry for their lives, as we do for the lives of Frank Curry, Cheryl Chunco, David Pierce, and Lyn Pierce, who rappel up and down the 80-foot-tall pillars, at times actually running down them, like figures in an Escher engraving. But their defiance of our physical limitations with confidence and artistry of movement imbues them with a supernatural air, as if they have shaken off the bonds of life and now move as angels. An ensemble of dancers performs inside the building, and periodically some in it rush to the edges of this floor or that to catch a glimpse of these transmigrating figures. They do this with such urgency and clutch to pillars or floor with such intensity that it reinforces our sense of the precariousness of their position and that of the other performers. That in turn translates into a sense of the precariousness of life itself.

We are ever on the edge and might slip over it at any moment. As we watch these artists exploring that thought on this hulking shell of a building, the concrete skeleton becomes a character itself – or characters, its appearance shifting in the play of Jason Amato's striking illumination: now a cathedral, inhabited by believers in prayerful meditation; now the carcass of some monumental beast, with small creatures swarming over its graying bones; now the ravaged federal building in Oklahoma City, peopled by the handful who survived an unfathomable act of terrorism. In every case, we are put in mind of the living and the dead, both the difference between them and the beauty in both: the one so lovely in our earthbound frailty, the other so glorious in their ascendance. In this way, Requiem delivers so much more than the thrills of a high-wire act under the big top. It offers us a compelling vision of life and transcendence on the remains of a dead building.

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