Aerial dancers talk inspiration, safety ahead of Seaholm show

  • Claire Christine Spera
  • Special to the American-Statesman
Sept 18, 2017
Ricardo Brazziell/Special to the American-Statesman
Members of Blue Lapis Light Aerial Dance Company rehearse on the stacks of the Seaholm Power Plant for their upcoming show “Belonging, Part One.” RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Blue Lapis Light Aerial Dance Company has been performing high-flying, site-specific choreographies across Austin since 2005. Now, for two weekends, the 20-member company takes on a new outdoor space — the Seaholm District plaza next to downtown’s Trader Joe’s — with “Belonging, Part One,” featuring aerial work on the Seaholm Power Plant’s towering stacks. We caught up with artistic director Sally Jacques, associate artistic director Nicole Whiteside and dancer Anika Jones on a blue-sky afternoon at the plaza to talk about the production. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.

PHOTOS: Blue Lapis Light Aerial Dance Company

What themes inspired this production?

Sally Jacques: I was inspired thinking about what our responsibility is on this Earth, and what are we doing here? How are our actions as human beings affecting the Earth? Air, water, soil, root systems; everything is given to us on this Earth, and yet we are destroying it at an alarming rate. I wanted to come up with a story that began with the idea of estrangement from your home, either because of hurricanes or war, and you don’t have anything to stand on; your bed’s gone, your home’s gone, your family’s torn apart, and what that feels like — the intensity of something like that happening in your life, and you just have to move through it. It’s down to survival and finding your way in an unknown world. We have to cherish and honor and respect what the Earth provides for us. We are all connected in a really brilliant way, including with animals. If we have a world where there’s no other species but us, it would be pretty dark.

As dancers, how are you connecting with the work? How does it feel to be in these spaces where people normally aren’t?

Anika Jones: I’m on the stacks. In terms of roles, I’m playing with the animal connection — some other creature, whether it be animal or some kind of ethereal, spiritual creature — that’s what the air elements are bringing in. Most of the choreography on the ground is more human. Myself and Nicole and two others are flying around the stacks. It’s an incredible feeling.

You both have done aerial dance work for a number of years, but even so, do you still get a sense of nervousness or fear about what could go wrong when relying on proper rigging of the apparatuses?

Nicole Whiteside: I know for me, working through fear is a normal part of this. I know my body has a natural response of fear of being up high at first. But our group has worked together for a really long time. Our riggers are amazing, and very vigilant, and sensitive, and on it. At any time, we can communicate with them about any concerns we have. They’re very mindful about helping us acclimate to the space. For example, the first rehearsals on-site, we started on the ground and worked our way up. We wore helmets while getting acclimated. So there is a process we build into it.

Jacques: With site-work choreography, you have to be flexible. What you rehearse in the studio isn’t necessarily going to work in the space. The sites demand their own choreography, so to speak. The whole community here (at Seaholm) has been incredibly supportive. All the businesses, the people passing through who are taking notice and asking questions. We’ve been figuring out the parts we need to edit, cut, change.

Blue Lapis Light has a certain visibility that the spaces you perform in lend to you, making the company a very unique troupe in Austin.

Whiteside: It’s wonderful. I feel like what we do is for the people walking by, for the people walking their dogs. I was just walking on the (Lamar) pedestrian bridge and I realized you can see some the buildings from there.

Jacques: Part of what I like about what we do is that it wakes up the architecture of the space we’re in.

Jones: Every new space has its challenges. Here, we’re flying side to side on the stacks, which took some time to rig. It was a challenge. It’s complicated but has a transformative result.

Whiteside: The sites we perform in call for us to use the air. It’s giving people the opportunity to see a transformation of their environment.

Blue Lapis Light is known for its site-specific performances. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN Photo: Ricardo Brazziell/Special to the American-Statesman