July 7, 2018
The world premiere of Beyond, a 50-minute “original dance opera” by husband and wife team Kimmie Dobbs Chan and Enoch Chan, takes the audience beyond the theater, just as the title implies. A program note indicates that Beyond is about getting lost and found, both literally and figuratively. According to an explanatory note about the work, Luna, an astronaut in the midst of a dust storm on Mars, is guided by Lady Time and meets her younger self, a stargazing child with dreams of exploring the moon. She also encounters Figments, reflections of experiences throughout her life. Some are “playful companions” and others “burdensome shadows.”
Beyond begins with a pile of three collapsed astronauts, their heads close together, their legs splayed outward like a starfish. There’s also a mysterious tall figure at the back of the stage (Lady Time danced by the commanding Bre Seals) who is draped in a floor-length lace-like shawl with a hood that covers her face. And there’s the child Luna (talented Lilly Schultz) who grasps a small pillow and watches her adult astronaut self (powerful Katie Creed) struggle and flail and right herself.
The music, primarily selections by Ludovico Einaudi, Daniel Hope, and I Virtuosi Italiani, evokes dreamlike emotions, tense and lovely. Faint whispers serve as a soundtrack, too. I could hear, “Turn back,” and “Dangerous.” Radio static and labored breathing also can be heard.
Andy Christ’s astronaut costumes are perfection — the helmets and collars appear amazingly light and unobtrusive. The Lady Time costume, on the other hand, reminds me of something my grandmother might have owned. The textured blanket in a tan/gold shade looks less surreal and more like an old abandoned textile rescued from a dusty box in someone’s attic. But maybe Lady Time should look timeworn?
Six Figments (Vivian Chen, Hannah Church, Kelly Fisher, Elizabeth Looby, Katherine Maloney, and Stacey Smith), costumed by Dobbs Chan, wear pale gray sweatshirts and leggings, with puffs of pale pink tulle peeking from beneath their tops and gauzy masks that obscure their faces. They dart and jump with childlike playfulness. There are small details in the choreography that keep one engaged. Through these Figments the momentum of Beyond rises and falls.
Soon a loop is revealed. Familiar imagery repeats. The child Luna turns again toward the adult Luna, but what follows isn’t a rerun. A different version of what’s happening in astronaut Luna’s mind unfolds. Guided by Lady Time, the child Luna, seated atop carefully arranged Figments and enclosed in a rocket they form, hurtles into space. The projection design by Jonathan Hsu and Kamajian Kamajinator (who sadly passed away prior to the performance), coupled with the choreography, cleverly shows the rocket’s rattling liftoff.
Figments, at one point, escort and lift both Lunas, separately, allowing them to float and fly. The lyrical soaring quality is beautiful to behold. Subsequently, the adult Luna stumbles and is knocked to the ground. This is also strangely beautiful. A cataclysmic storm arrives. The sky darkens, and the adult Luna and her two astronaut companions (Catherine David and Christina Gleason) display physical distress. During the ensuing drama, the child Luna shakes her counterpart’s limp hand to no avail. Then she hugs the adult’s motionless leg as the pair rests on the ground. Figments, crouched in a line stretching out like stepping stones, echo the child’s desperate clinging. What happens, ultimately, is up to the viewer, I’m sure, but there’s some hand holding, and I assume a loving peace emerges.
I was lucky to see an excerpt of Beyond in advance of its premiere, and I was immediately hooked. Somewhat surprisingly to me, the opening night performance didn’t move me quite as much as my initial brief viewing. Even with the addition of the impactful projections, which were not part of the excerpt performance, I felt less stirred. I suspect this might be due, in part, to my proximity to the dancers. For the excerpt, I was seated closer to the stage, and closer to eye level with the dancers, so their remarkable facial expressions were easy to enjoy. From a greater distance, it was more difficult to discern the same emotions. I also think the length of the performance changed my feelings about it. There was something special about the short, stripped down version I first saw that I think could be replicated with more editing.