Tandy Beal’s HereAfterHere: A Self-Guided Tour of Eternity aims to engage the audience in a conversation about death. However, the performance is so full of the joy of life, music, movement and creativity that at times death is left in the wings, although still close enough to remind the audience to appreciate all that’s being offered.
The concert is a multi-arts event incorporating dance, video, music, spoken word, theater, magic, humor, and more. It uses a variety of very creative and effective devices to convey the ephemeral quality of life. One of the most striking is the use of two levels of “shadow boxes” in which performers appear, then disappear. These are covered with a transparent screen onto which video can be projected, allowing a mixture of live and video performances.
The choreography, by Beal, who also dances and serves as a guide to the many layers of activity, is excellent, and evokes the wide variety of religions and cultures whose views on death form the backbone of the event. The dancers are refreshingly diverse, with a variety of ethnicities, body types and ages represented. Of particular note are a stunning solo by Chien-Ying Wang, and the ensemble, all dressed in white, performing a longer, more complex final piece.
The video is a bit predictable, with scenes of stars, galaxies, and someone swimming towards the light. However, the videos of ordinary people talking about what they believe will happen after death are at times humorous and at times deeply moving.
While humor can be helpful at breaking the ice, communicating things indirectly, and lightening a topic some people find distressing, it is at times distracting. The show would also benefit from some newer humor instead of tired old jokes we’ve all read online too many times.
The soundscape, by Jon Scoville, is effective and provides subtle openings into the topics using a variety of motifs including the voices of children and babies, thunder, and even subway noises to represent the underworld. Unfortunately, it sometimes drowned out the voices of the actors.
The performance, which runs about an hour and 45 minutes could use some tightening and a slightly faster pace.
Despite these quibbles, HereAfterHere is an effective, thoughtful, well-conceived, extremely creative look at an unusual topic that is rarely discussed in the arts. And Beal, through her words and choreography, invites us to explore death and what may follow with open hearts and open minds.
Tandy Beal’s HereAfterHere was presented at the University of Utah’s Marriott Center for Dance, May 9-11.
Sarah Thompson is a retired physician and psychiatrist, as well as a writer and a fan of the arts. Her writing has been published in a variety of magazines and textbooks and she is currently working on a short story and a novel.