Yes, when she was young, Kelsey Long’s mother told her not to jump off high things — like the house.
But she did.
“I did, I jumped off the house but not to a hard spot,” Long said. “I knew better than that. I jumped to a soft place. I jumped into our pool.”
Now, not so far removed from her young leap from housetop to pool, Long performs more daring feats as a dancer with the acrobatic dance company Diavolo which performs 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Grand Opera House.
She’s among 12 dancers who through a variety of means might be soaring beautifully — and dangerously — 20 feet above the stage at distances equally as far.
You might have caught some of Diavolo’s work before on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” In the 2017 season, their high-flying spectacles made them top 10 finalists.
But seeing on TV, even on the biggest screen, doesn’t compare to the gasp-factor a live performance brings, Long said.
“On TV, you have kind of a size reference,” she said. “You know how tall the average person is so when you see us doing some crazy fly off an apparatus you kind of understand how high and far it is. But when you see us live, when you’re in the audience and there it is, happening right in front of you in the same space you’re in, you have a much more tangible understanding and experience. You really understand the risk and the beauty and how it all tells a story.”
Long said she was an active kid. She played high-level competitive sports in school and was always at the beach, eventually as a lifeguard — she was a Southern California kid, after all. At age 3, she started training in gymnastics, ballet, jazz and contemporary dance which became her passion.
“I grew up a pretty active child and was lucky to have parents who put me in different activities, some of them even a little risky,” she said. “I guess my first understanding of boundaries might have been a little different than other kids. Right off the bat, when I was learning to walk, my father encouraged my mother not to hold my hand walking down our stairs but to let me try it. My parents supported me in testing myself and my physical capabilities.”
As a teenager, Long had the opportunity to dance with well-known troupes then gained a degree in Dance, Choreography and Performance from California Institute of the Arts. In several years, she danced with other companies as well as serving in technical production roles. In 2015, she performed a self-choreographed solo at the Seoul International Dance Competition and won top honors in her division.
But with a growing dance career, Long said she was finding something missing, something she finally put a name to after seeing Diavolo: risk!
“In all I did I was missing something, I was missing risk and I was missing it a lot,” she said. “That feeling you get in your stomach people call butterflies. Anxious excitement is hard to find when the ground is right there under your feet. Joining Diavolo I use all my technical skills and techniques as a trained dancer but we’re able to push beyond boundaries and create new ones in momentary weightlessness.”
In addition to finding a beautiful and newly satisfying way to perform, Long said she also found a stronger sense of community and trust among the company’s dancers.
“Believe me, with the extraordinary things we do and how we do them, we have to build a level of trust and commitment that goes beyond the ordinary,” she said. “We practice, work out and rehearse intensely to present a beautiful, breathtaking performance but also we do it to keep one another safe. Before each performance, we look in each other’s eyes and say, ‘I will die for you.’ And we mean it. We watch out for one another to see if something is not quite right and react in order to remedy it.”
Just as troupe members watch out for and encourage one another, Long said she hopes audiences are inspired to “grander” things.
“It’s entertaining, without question,” she said. “Audiences are mesmerizingly entertained but I believe it also has the potential to inspire people to be grander in whatever they do. Feel deeper. Emote with more passion. Push further and take risks. Do something out of their comfort zone because that’s where you discover and grow. And I hope the trust and respect we have for one another on stage spills over.”
Long can be recognized in the evening’s first act, Voyage, as the more plainly dressed soloist on a journey finding love and wonder within herself and, as Long put it, “within this amazing universe we’ve all been gifted with.”
Diavolo is celebrating its 25th anniversary year after being created by French-born choreographer Jacques Heim. The name Diavolo comes from two Spanish words roughly conveying the idea “the day I fly.”
Contact Michael W. Pannell at email@example.com.
Where: The Grand Opera House, 651 Mulberry St.
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5
Information: 478-301-5470, www.thegrandmacon.com/all-events/diavolo