In the Hindu sacred text, the Mahabharata, a half-god half-demon Yashka asks Yudhistira, the "King of Dharma," a riddle: What is the greatest wonder in the world? Yudhistira answers, "Every day countless people die and depart from the world, yet those who remain alive here hope for everlasting life."
Indeed, if you ask a 100 different people, "what happens after we die?" you will get a 100 different answers, and Tandy Beal, who describes herself as a "director, choreographer, performer, teacher and dreamer," has been asking. So far she has asked over 500 people about the greatest wonder in the world, and she has used their answers to create "HereAfterHere," a multi-media program of dance, music, poetry, video and magic. She's not trying to find a definitive answer, but rather is using art and metaphor as a way to get people talking about the unknown. "It opens the door to this astonishing event in our lives, and it's an invitation to simply rest in the question," she says.
Beal did an enormous amount of research in order to include a wide array of historical, cultural and religious views. "This concert makes no proclamations about what happens," she says. "Different religions have strong points of view but they happen to be different from each other."
Although the topic is death, Beal says that "HereAfterHere" was not inspired by tragedy but by her fascination with the kind of big questions that come up in your midnight mind: What the heck are we doing here? Where is the hereafter located? Why is it so exclusionary? Why is it for eternity? How do we get in? What is the price of admission? "The central metaphor is, this is an astonishing magical event that happens to everybody," she says, "When you consider if there's a possible afterlife, it helps you step back from the intensity of personal grief and look at the whole picture of every living thing on this planet."
This magical and spiritual element is expressed in dance and in the multimedia aspects of the show which includes video by University of Utah dance professor Ellen Bromberg and filmmaker Denise Gallant Beal, and music by Jon Scoville. The show is visually and emotionally engaging. "As my husband [Scoville] would say, it's half theatre, half dance and half video. The blood that connects everything is his music which is, dare I say, divine. So it's three quarters music, too."
She has found that people are hungry to talk about the afterlife in a culture that often avoids the inevitability of old age and death. She says, "With Boomers taking care of their parents and looking at themselves aging, this is a hot topic. Botox and Viagra are not going to solve this issue. In America we kind of think death is optional."
People are so eager to talk that one of her experiments proved almost too successful: "In my first version I had everyone give each other their cell phone numbers to call each other. They didn't know who they were talking to but we couldn't get people off the phone. I took it out because a half-hour break was way too long."
In California, "HereAfterHere" drew sold-out crowds (unusual for a modern dance performance, to say the least) and right now Beal is customizing the production for Utah. Working with the University of Utah Department of Modern Dance, artist Carleen Jimenez and other partners, she is putting together a cast of Utah dancers that includes Ari Audd, Jo Blake, Sara Donahue, Paul C. Ocampo, Chien-Ying Wang, Chia-Chi Chiang, Aaron Wood, and tango dancers Brian Salisbury and Barbara Zakarian. She is also organizing an ambitious program of interrelated events, and interviewing local people about the big questions. "I've done one set of interviews in Utah already and I've found the diversity thrilling here," she says. The clips in the show express as wide diversity as possible, from "It's all blackness" to "I'll sing and dance with all my loved ones." (You can participate in the 'Leaning into the Light' interview project at the Salt Lake Main Library on May 1 & May 4.)
Because the purpose of the work is, after all, to start a community conversation, the "HereAfterHere" dance performance is really just the centerpiece of a full week of related workshops, films, discussions and a fundraiser for Utah Hospice. "If people come to all the workshops they will get a whole retreat for free," Beal says. Then she offers Groucho Marx's famous last words, "Die, my dear? That's the last thing I'm going to do."
"HereAfterHere: A self-guided tour of eternity"
Marriott Center for Dance (U of U campus)
May 9, 7:30pm (hospice benefit);
May 10, 7:30pm;
May 11, 2:00pm & 7:30pm. http://Kingtix.com $15-30.
Related Events, April 25-May 6 (Look for details and a full schedule at hereafterhere.com)
—Present at the Passing. Workshop and discussion about the end of life led by hospice chaplain Kelly Fogarty, First Unitarian Church, 569 S. 1300 E. SLC
—Pondering the Imponderable: Metaphors of Science, Art and Religion. Symposium. SLC Main Library, 6:30pm
—Leaning into the Light: Record a brief version of what you think happens after you die. Noon-6pm. SLC Main Library.
—Film: After Life (1998) 6:30pm. SLC Main Library. Discussion moderator, Paul Reynolds.
—Present at the Passing (repeat) 6:30pm, SLC Main Library.
—Leaning into the Light (repeat) Noon-6pm. SLC Main Library.
—Always be Prepared: Meet experts about end-of-life financial and healthcare planning. SLC Main Library. Noon-6pm
—Film: Orpheus (1949) 2:00pm, SLC Main Library. Discussion moderator, Carleen Jimenez.
—Pondering the Imponderable: Metaphors of Science, Art and Religion. Symposium on the use of metaphor to talk about the unknown. 6:30 SLC Main Library.