Exploring the hereafter a step at a time
"HereAfterHere: a self-guided tour of eternity" is a multimedia performance about the one subject our culture hates to talk about: death.
It's about "opening the door to this astonishing event in our lives; to imagine the unimaginable, and to give people a moment to rest in the question of what happens next," said director Tandy Beal.
"It's the last taboo," she added. "We talk about money, we talk about sex, but we don't really talk about this inevitable event until it is right in front of us."
Beal said the topic incubated in her mind for more than a decade before it found its way to the stage, first in Santa Cruz, Calif. It makes its Utah premiere this week at the University of Utah's Marriott Center for Dance.
Beal and her husband, musician Jon Scoville, have toured the world with their performance company, Tandy Beal & Company, most recently splitting their professional year between Utah and California.
For many years the couple lived in a log cabin in the area across from Westminster College known to many as Hobbitville. In the summer they would drag their mattress outside and sleep under the stars. It was those moments that made Beal want to create a work about the hereafter.
"I would wake up at night and look out at the stars and at first feel startled, but when I really looked at the vastness, I felt comforted."
In California, "HereAfterHere" drew sold-out crowds and rave reviews. The Utah premiere is part of a weeklong exploration of the subject that includes community workshops, films, discussions and a fundraiser for Utah Hospice. (See schedule.)
The community work is not just hype for the performance or poetic musings. On Saturday, May 4, a six-hour session at the Salt Lake City Main Library provided free advice from financial experts on "planning for your future financial and health-care needs." The open session included a table with information from nonprofits such as The Funeral Alliance of Utah, which offers information about the cost and other aspects of funerals.
On Monday, May 6, a symposium will bring together respected scientists, medical doctors, philosophers and artists to publicly grapple with the "Metaphors of Science, Art and Religion." The "HereAfterHere" postshow discussions include many of these same professionals.
University of Utah dance department chairman Stephen Koester said the performance is "really a device to rally people around a larger topic in this case death and get people talking. Jon and Tandy are looking at this topic from multiple perspectives: science, art, religion, ethics and philosophy."
Onstage, "HereAfterHere" brings together video, actors, dancers, sets, costumes, lighting and Scoville's score. The Utah cast includes dancers Ari Audd, Jo Blake, Paul C. Ocampo, Chien-Ying Wang, Chia-Chi Chiang, Aaron Wood and tango dancers Brian Salisbury and Barbara Zakarian. Video is by Ellen Bromberg, a professor in the U.'s department of modern dance and founding director of its graduate certificate in Screendance.
Although joy is not a word we typically associate with death, Bromberg said "HereAfterHere" is "a joyous investigation of life and the world beyond. It has a depth and a humor which allows the conversation to go beyond the usual path of discussion."
One conversation with Scoville assures that there will be plenty of humor surrounding this difficult topic. Scoville said when Beal first told him about the subject, he wondered how anyone could write music about the hereafter. "I knew I wasn't going to use trumpets or harps. Then I realized I had no restrictions because nobody knows what the hereafter sounds like, so no one could contradict me."
In the program's culminating piece of music, Scoville said he references Stevie Wonder, Wilson Pickett, Miles Davis, The Beatles and the words of President Franklin Roosevelt.
Although those musical references are personal, Scoville said he and Beal purposefully left out specific cultural or religious beliefs. "Some people say that heaven is what you make it whatever you imagine it to be is what it will be for you."
Then Scoville told this story: An atheist scientist was asked if he believed in reincarnation. The scientist scratched his head and answered, "No, but I might have."
Dancing to eternity
Tandy Beal & Company presents a new dance production "HereAfterHere: a self-guided tour of eternity," which explores what people think happens after they die.
When • Thursday-Saturday, May 9-11, 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday. Thursday's performance is a benefit for Hospice of Utah.
Where • Marriott Center for Dance on the University of Utah campus, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $15-$30, kingtix.com
Details • A discussion and question-and-answer period with hospice and medical experts takes place after the Thursday and Friday performances.
Other events • "Pondering the Imponderable," a symposium about the afterlife that includes experts in science, art and religion, takes place Monday, May 6, at 6:30 p.m. at the Salt Lake City Main Library, 210 E. 400 South.
Online • tandybeal.com/projects-hereafterhere.html
U. musician retiring
Musician Jon Scoville is retiring after 40 years with the University of Utah's department of modern dance.
Scoville began as an accompanist for dance classes in 1974, but his role quickly grew to include music resources for dance, rhythmic analysis, percussion accompaniment and aesthetics.
Although he never trained as a dancer, Scoville taught choreography to dancers using the principles used by composers. "I'll miss teaching, but I'll mostly miss playing daily for class, making music in real time for dancers to dance to in real time," he said.
Scoville has produced 10 albums, composed for choreographers around the world, and founded the community-oriented samba drum group Samba Gringa, now known as Samba Fogo. In his retirement, he will continue to be the music director for his wife's dance-theater company, Tandy Beal & Company, and to write music for other commissions.
Scoville and Beal began their personal relationship in 1963 and launched their first artistic collaboration in 1971, working together at the U., in cities around the nation and in Santa Cruz, Calif., where they founded Tandy Beal & Company in 1974.
U. dance department chairman Stephen Koester said Scoville's "presence throughout the curriculum will be missed."