The Blue (Lapis Light) Print for Dancing on a Skyscraper

Wed, Aug 2, 2017

Written by: Kayla Washko

Pittsburghers spent the first few days of June 2017 looking up. At any given moment outside the Stanwix Street side of Fifth Avenue Place, dozens of pedestrians craned their necks and raised their mobile phones toward the sky. One man was so captivated that he stopped his truck in the middle of the intersection and hopped out for a better view.

A troupe of aerial dancers known as Blue Lapis Light was the source of the awe and wonder. They seemed to appear out of nowhere, yet look right at home on the side of Fifth Avenue Place. Secured in their harnesses, they gracefully tumbled and floated on the skyscraper’s facade as if the movement was as freeing as jumping on a giant bouncy castle.

Of course, the dancers had come from somewhere—Austin, to be exact—where they had been planning the premiere of their latest site-specific work, Stardust, for months. The piece debuted during the opening night of the 2017 Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival June 2 and reprised on Saturday night.

Here’s an inside look at how Blue Lapis Light (and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust) prepared for this unprecedented performance:

  • It started with a print out: The Blue Lapis Light team practiced movements back in their studio in Austin, but in order to conceptualize the enormous scale of a building they had never seen in person, let alone danced on, they printed out photos of Fifth Avenue Place and drew stick figures to represent each performer’s placement and movements. Upon their arrival in Pittsburgh, they only had three days—and 24 hours of rehearsal time—to put everything together.
  • An Artistic Director’s favorite vantage point: Blue Lapis Light’s Artistic Director, Sally Jacques, watched the dancers’ rehearsals from an unlikely vantage point: lying on the sidewalk outside of Fifth Avenue Place. When Jacques rejoined the dancers back up on the twenty-third floor of the building, she gave notes about diagonals and hitting shapes, just the way any choreographer would.
  • What the building feels like to a dancer: Over the course of the performance, dancers repelled from the twenty-third floor down to the third floor of the skyscraper. The granite at the top of the building felt like rough, unfinished sandpaper to the troupe. But the material further down felt “spongy” and “soft” to the dancers, and they said they enjoyed the feeling of landing back on those surfaces after each jump.
  • Special permitting and insurance: Of course, all parties involved made sure that safety was a foremost consideration. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust applied for a special permit from the City of Pittsburgh for Blue Lapis Light’s rehearsals and performances. Engineers inspected the davits on the building, EMS were present all week as a precaution, and a fence was set up on the Stanwix Street sidewalk for pedestrian safety.


Blue Lapis Light’s free performances were made possible by a co-presentation between the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival and the Pittsburgh Dance Council. Continue discovering and challenging your perceptions of dance with a subscription to the 2017-2018 Pittsburgh Dance Council season.

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Photos by Earl McGehee.

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