A breathtaking aerial dance that successfully connects the earthly with the heavenly

Angels we have seen on high
Angels we have seen on high


City Terrace at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside
Through Sept. 19
Running time: 1 hr.

If ever dance work could make one want to be a poet instead of a critic, it's the work of Sally Jacques. Richly imagistic, beautifully frightening, and deeply compelling, her Blue Lapis Light concerts touch parts of the brain that do not wish to make sentences or paragraphs. Instead, they activate luscious, disconnected fragments and phrases that just want to lie on the page next to each other and bask.

On and around the crescent of columns flanking the Long Center City Terrace, with the Austin skyline as a backdrop, groups of dancers dressed in light blue or beige calmly orbit through proscribed spaces. Seraphic beings shimmer and beckon from the crescent above, and long-skirted ground dwellers struggle upward, at times threading through the aisles and lifting partners skyward. Suspended between the two are flesh-toned sylphs coiling around long blue silk tethers, floating spirits gliding on slow-motion zip lines overhead and column walkers spiraling on wired harnesses, dancing finely developed duets with their multicolored shadows.

The aptly named Heaven-Earth-One, dedicated to the much-missed Pina Bausch, conjures a taste of her spirit in an unusually gesture-rich movement palette replete with yearning reaches and supplicant hands with fingers spread. A small nod to Wim Wenders' angels in Wings of Desire figures early on as the dancers on the crescent briefly sit with legs dangling off the precarious edge.

Much of Jacques' work is implicitly about trust and connection – of course, the performers must be able to rely on the rigging equipment and silks in order to transcend the equipment and truly dance – but at the opening night performance, it became clear that this particular work requires the ultimate trust in their physical connections to one another. In a highlight, dancers Nicole Whiteside and Jason Brown demonstrated daring and grace while performing a sensuously tenuous upside-down duet wrapped in the silks, with him holding her alternately by a single hand or an ankle as she dangled 20 feet in the air. Through the hypnotic episode, many breaths were held as the spellbound audience willed a cocoon of safety around the dancers. It was a white-knuckle experience of the best kind, one of great risk and beauty without grandstanding.

In a show filled with lovely dancers, inspired work by gifted technical collaborators, and many glorious images, the most majestic ones occurred when the universe decided to play along. Midway through, the nymphs on silks were almost constantly in motion, wrapping themselves in fetal positions and quickly unraveling themselves in death-defying spins. Extending their legs and unfurling the curtains of fabric below for the first time, a sudden breeze from nowhere came, as if on cue, to gently blow the streamers and complete the picture. It was a simple moment in a performance that successfully connects the heavenly with the earthly – a moment of wordless and satisfying depth when the audience surrendered words for an audible gasp.

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Heaven-Earth-One, Blue Lapis Light, Sally Jacques, Long Center for the Performing Arts, Nicole Whiteside, Jason Brown

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