Whispers of Heaven
With Whispers of Heaven, choreographer Sally Jacques invites us to steep in visions of loveliness in a hard place, to ease into beauty as we would a hot bath
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., June 24, 2005
Whispers of Heaven
3800 Drossett Ste. A, through June 26
Running Time: 1 hr
On the stony gray concrete floor are spread three large beds of white rose petals, through which stroll four women holding white umbrellas out of which rain still more white petals in a slow and graceful drizzle. From the hard metal rafters of the industrial warehouse drop luxuriant lengths of white material that four women proceed to climb and wrap themselves in, winding the cloth around their limbs so that they're held suspended in space, angels frozen in their flights across the heavens. Near the top of a massive, unadorned support pole, a woman dances in the air, at times leaning against a metal support bar, at times dangling from a strap, striking poses of breathtaking elegance against this structural device.
For an hour, these visions keep coming, visions of loveliness in a hard place, of feeling in an unfeeling space. Some artists respond to the violence and suffering of the world, particularly in dark times such as these, by creating art that reflects the ugliness they see around them. Others try to stem the tide of brutality with beauty, crafting works whose splendor and gorgeousness rekindle the flickering hope in our breasts. Whispers of Heaven feels as if it comes from the latter camp. The latest site-specific dance by Sally Jacques may be familiar in that its setting is a large industrial warehouse; its dancers walk across walls, move through space far above the floor, and otherwise defy gravity as they perform; and the imagery and sounds that surround them come from longtime collaborators of Jacques': lighting designer Jason Amato, vocalist Tina Marsh, cellist Terry Muir, and sound designer William Meadows. But this work feels more lush, more radiant than its predecessors. When four dancers perch sideways on a wall, the crimson light in which Amato bathes them is so rich and thick as to seem more water than light, a sumptuous pool of pure red. The score leans even more heavily toward the romantic and melodic, with contributions from Britten, Mozart, and Massenet, and pieces such as Lennon and McCartney's "Across the Universe" and the most heartrending aria from Catalani's La Wally, which Marsh's remarkable voice caresses almost feverishly, an impassioned dream of love. Muir's keening cello evokes the plaintive quality of whale-song. Laura Cannon's loose and airy costumes seem almost to lift the dancers upward. And, of course, Jacques' choreography, with its slow, fluid gestures, showcases the human form not only in all its suppleness and grace but also its capacity for compassion and comfort: Nicole Whiteside crossing the concrete floor on pointe and Ishaq Clayton skating across it, leaving a small wake of petals rippling behind him; Andee Scott scooping armfuls of petals from the floor and showering them on a sleeping figure; Laura Cannon, fearlessly and breathtakingly bending and twisting on the pole just above the heads of the audience all are ravishing expressions of tenderness and humanity. Jacques invites us to steep in all this beauty, to ease into it as we would a hot bath. And hot it most assuredly is in the unventilated warehouse where Whispers of Heaven is performed. But there is something of the sweat lodge in the experience: It is purifying. We emerge, cleansed of despair and sorrow, returned to the time, as Marsh intones at one point, "when we were not afraid."