Blue Lapis Light transforms Seaholm into a grand cathedral where the spirit is free to soar

Arts Review


Seaholm Power Plant, through Oct. 28

Running time: 50 min

We are a people of function. However much we may be drawn to an object's form – and heaven help us, we are fascinated with form – what finally matters most to us is that the thing do what it is designed to do. If it no longer can, if it has outlived its purpose, then no matter how appealing to the eye it may have been or still is, we tend to view it as a castoff, as useless rubbish, as junk. Most of us entering an empty power plant that hasn't generated any electricity in almost 20 years would see an industrial husk, a monstrous void entombed in concrete. Sally Jacques entered one and saw a cathedral, and the site-specific choreographer spent six months working to convince developers and engineers and city officials that it existed. Against all odds, she succeeded, and for the remainder of the month we may share in her uncommon vision.

The title of Jacques' new dance, Illumination, plays off Seaholm's history of providing power and light to the city, but it also speaks to Jacques' ability to cast light on otherwise abandoned structures and illuminate the beauty they still possess. With the skeleton of the unfinished Intel building, she and her team of trusted collaborators used the exposed beams and open floors to suggest the ruins of a monumental palace. Here, they transform the massive beams and vast emptiness of Seaholm into a grand temple, a sacred space in which the spirit is free to soar toward heaven. Seven dancers hover high up on the plant's distant back wall, Jason Amato's exquisite lighting creating the illusion of stained glass behind them. To the glorious strains of a Palestrina "Hosanna" – William Meadows' sound fills the space majestically – they inhabit the air in individual gestures and poses that culminate in a linking of their bodies into a chain of humanity across the space. A solo dancer rises up from the depths below us and ascends, her arms sensuously caressing the air about her. When she is joined by two other dancers, they dive forward and back, spinning end over end like human pinwheels. Four dancers appear from behind four concrete columns, their bodies perpendicular to the structural forms. They somersault forward and then back, spinning out of view like phantoms, trailing cloth like ectoplasm behind them. A trio of dancers climbs long strips of fabric a dozen feet up, and with only the cloth wrapped around their limbs, they twist and turn in space, oblivious to the chains of gravity. A solo dancer (the wondrous Laura Cannon) leaps 10 feet into the air, doing a breathtaking pirouette while sideways. These images of flight, bathed as they are in shimmering beams of blue and violet and gold, light so full and animated as to seem almost alive, all set against the vaulting expanse of this enormous structure, feel as if they come out of myth or dream. They are the stuff of heaven, and they are beautiful.

And they truly come to us in the course of the dance, each piece being staged a little nearer to the section of the plant where the audience is seated, until the finale when Laura Cannon and Nicole Whiteside, in a moving embrace in the air, float toward us and by us before sinking into the space below. That progression of movement closer and closer, the sense of intimacy increasing with each section of the dance, that last tender image of figures joined shine their own meaningful light; they illuminate something of what it means when we gather together. A group of people needn't be just a mass of bodies, a disconnected crowd. It can be, as it is meant to be in a sacred space, a communion of souls. In a defunct old power plant, we can find splendor, we can know what it is to fly, and we can be one.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Arts Reviews
Review: Penfold Theatre's <i>Vincent</i>
Review: Penfold Theatre's Vincent
Penfold Theatre proves that size matters in surprising ways when painting a portrait of Van Gogh

Bob Abelman, March 31, 2023

Review: Different Stages' <i>The Tavern</i>
Review: Different Stages' The Tavern
Not to be melodramatic but, damn, this revival of George M. Cohan's comedy is a satire worth sitting through

Bob Abelman, March 24, 2023

More by Robert Faires
Last Bow of an Accidental Critic
Last Bow of an Accidental Critic
Lessons and surprises from a career that shouldn’t have been

Sept. 24, 2021

"Daniel Johnston: I Live My Broken Dreams" Tells the Story of an Artist
The first-ever museum exhibition of Daniel Johnston's work digs deep into the man, the myths

Sept. 17, 2021


Illumination, Blue Lapis Light, Sally Jacques, Jason Amato, William Meadows, Laura Cannon, Nicole Whiteside

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle