The Austin Chronicle

Blue Lapis Light's Belonging, Part One

The work's dancers, whether on the ground or sailing through the air, were beacons of human hope and empathy

Reviewed by Jonelle Seitz, September 28, 2018, Arts

Like a fish that grows in proportion to the size of its tank, a dancer's expression expands to the size of their environment. It's physical, but also metaphysical: A further reach may add fractions of an inch to the actual length of a dancer's arm, leg, or spine, but the expression of that reach expands in multitudes.

In the reprise of Sally Jacques' 2017 work Belonging, Part One, each Blue Lapis Light dancer, whether on the ground or sailing through the air, tethered to a structure many stories high, was a beacon of human hope and empathy in a context with no walls, no limits. In front of an audience nestled between the hopping restaurants at Seaholm District Plaza, a group of dancers on the ground gazed out and up, at once human and angelic, plaintive and benevolent. Others appeared in the concrete-cased windows of a parking garage, apparitions of vulnerability, persistence, and power. A third group was tethered to the old power plant's great stacks, the tapered columns many stories tall that, decades ago, released the smoke from oil burned to generate the city's electricity. From the ground, we saw women softly floating around the stacks, their bodies reaching into pointed stars and then tumbling through space, their feet brushing the metal sides of the stacks as they returned to this strange, perpendicular Earth.

The central theme in Belonging, Part One is empathy. Video projections mapped onto the parking garage offered glimpses of beings in distress – refugees, victims of disasters and war, animals targeted and killed en masse – but also of renewal and hope. The choreography itself, despite its impossible settings, was humble and clear, intentional and felt. Empathy and care were especially apparent in the duets: Anika Jones and Jun "Sunny" Shen on the ground, and Nicole Whiteside and Jones in the air, grasping each other so they could hover together between the stacks. These duets, where each figure had the responsibility and capability to care for the other, were a salve for a world where pas de deux is often stark and manipulative, bordering on violent.

In Belonging, Part One, humans and their skyward apparitions are tasked with determining how to belong and accept in a world where so much doesn't belong or has been displaced. Up on the stacks, humans are not where they're supposed to be, but their placement there is necessitated by the human ingenuity that built them. On Friday evening, lightning in the distance threatened the show, and a cloudburst near the end of the performance sent a fraction of the audience scurrying for cover. The dancers continued to float through the sky while Jacques and her crew stood vigil, monitoring the situation. To me (although I understand that circumstances differ), leaving would have felt like abandonment. The risk in this great experiment was more palpable than usual, and it seemed even more important to bear witness to it.

Belonging, Part One

Seaholm District Plaza, 211 Walter Seaholm
Through Sept. 30
Running time: 1 hr., 15 min.

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