Casting a Spell | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Casting a Spell 

William Blake inspires choreographer Tandy Beal.

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Throughout her prolific career, dancer and Outside Blake’s Window choreographer Tandy Beal has founded her own modern-dance company, traveled to Japan to collaborate with Russian circus performers and helped dearly departed music legend Frank Zappa realize his dream of populating a stage with life-size puppets, among other artistic achievements.


Beal says, with true conviction, that out of the 100-plus performance art projects she’s created over the years, Outside Blake’s Window'a dance-theater performance that explores the life and work of 19th-century poet, painter and printmaker William Blake using slide and video projectors, singers, actors and sets of gently swaying identical twins'is, without a doubt, one of her crowning achievements.


When she initially dreamed up the piece, Beal decided to integrate circus performers'such as a fire juggler and a former Cirque du Soleil aerialist'because she felt that fire and flight were two of Blake’s most intriguing metaphors. The use of dazzling bursts of flame and an elegant, free-floating body helped Beal physically articulate and more thoroughly explore the outer limits of Blake’s formidable creative mind. Moreover, the element of risk associated with one performer flying through the air and another handling live fire would give the audience a vivid sense of Blake’s legendary, insatiable lust for intense experiences infused with imagination.


Blake’s uncanny poems and visual art have influenced multitudes of artists'from beat poet Allen Ginsberg to author C.S. Lewis. Beal believes Blake’s creative legacy is that his work challenges even the most seasoned artists to question their worldviews.


“I originally did this piece because I wanted to create something that would take me outside of myself,” Beal explains. “The dance vocabulary is so much about your own body. … When you dance, you’re focused on yourself all the time. I thought that researching another historical era would be enriching.” Beal stresses that she used Blake’s life and work as a springboard and that Outside Blake’s Window is by no means a linear narrative. The piece is essentially an enchanted sensory fiesta, an auditory and visual celebration of the human imagination.


Beal says that growing up in Hollywood, Calif., with actor parents and working with an eclectic assortment of performance artists through the years (such as her musician husband, who composed the bulk of the original music for Outside Blake’s Window) allowed her to create a logistically complicated, visually stunning interdisciplinary work with relative ease. California audiences and critics raved about Outside Blake’s Window when the work first premièred more than a decade ago. Repertory Dance Theatre Artistic Director Linda C. Smith'who has an eye for contemporary modern dance masterpieces'requested that Beal stage the piece in Utah with RDT dancers.


Beal accepted Smith’s invitation because of the positive experience that she had during a previous teaching engagement at the University of Utah’s modern-dance department. Beal says that she was enormously impressed by the caliber, energy and volume of Utah dancers and performance artists. She knew she would have a pool of versatile artists at her disposal.


“This work casts a spell, and I invite the audience to step into it. Outside Blake’s Window is about how we live our lives. We can choose to live with rich fullness … but so often, we don’t. Blake lived fully every day, and his art reflects that,” Beal says.


Beal admits that such a deep, multifaceted performance is bound to have certain moments that might not be every audience member’s cup of tea. “But, I can assure you, this is a very entertaining work. I had an atheist tell me that watching it was almost like a religious experience, and that’s something! There is at least a little sip of tea for everyone,” she says with a smile.


Outside Blake’s Window
nRepertory Dance Theatre
nRose Wagner Performing Arts Center
n138 W. 300 South
nApril 12-14
n8 p.m.
n(Pre-concert discussion at 7:30 p.m.)

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About The Author

Jenny Poplar

Jenny Poplar is both a dancer and a frequent City Weekly contributor.

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