By Scott MacClelland
Since physics tells us that energy cannot be destroyed, but only converted into another form, we must be grateful that so much of it found its way into Tandy Beal, Felton’s gift to the world of dance.
Why Felton, you ask? A good question for a dancer/choreographer who honed her craft in New York. In fact, moving from the Big Apple to Santa Cruz was done in fits and starts. Beal’s artistic partner and husband, composer Jon Scoville, initiated the relocation. “I didn’t want to do it,” says Beal. But Scoville had a scholarship job at Yale where his teacher was Harry Berger, and when Berger came to the nascent UC Santa Cruz as a professor of literature, Scoville followed him.
Meanwhile, Beal, whose parents were both professional actors and living in Connecticut, found her girlish enthusiasm for dance reignited in junior high when she happened to see an Alwin Nikolais performance. “I knew I would dance with him,” she declares, “and I did!” The American-born Nikolais, influenced early on by the German modern dance pioneer Mary Wigman, was a pupil of Hanya Holm at the dance school at Bennington College whose other leading lights included Doris Humphrey, Dennis Weidman and Martha Graham. When Beal met Nikolais, he was already known for his witty ideas in movement, staging and costumes, including those full-body, brightly colored stretchable fabrics.
After graduating from high school, at age 16, Beal went to New York, enrolled at the Nikolais Studio and told herself, “I’m home!” When she says “Nikolais was my mentor” you can see it in her own whimsical ideas, clever costumes and lighting, the kinds of props she uses and the effects she gets.
By 1971, Beal and Scoville had settled here for good. Yet they also go on the road much of the year. Beal has enjoyed a long working relationship with the unique Bobby McFerrin, as choreographer, stage director and fellow improviser. She does multiple workshops drawing the different arts together and developing new ideas both artistic and philosophical.
The fully staged HereAfterHere: “a self-guided tour through eternity” was introduced to Santa Cruz at Cabrillo College in 2010. It was revived in Salt Lake City last year. (The performances at Santa Clara University this weekend will include panel discussions on rituals at the end of life with the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council, among others.) Beal has explored the ‘life after death’ issue before both directly and obliquely. Nightlife (on insomnia) and A Wing and A Prayer came before HereAfterHere, sometimes borne of very personal experience, and at others in musings on the fragility of life and the ephemeral.
In response to my question about how she and Scoville work together, she says, “We are each other’s muse. But we work in our own worlds,” adding, “Now we work almost parallel. Jon will look at what I’m doing and suggest choices. It’s a wonderful working relationshiop.” So whose idea was HereAfterHere? “He thinks it was mine, I think it was his.” She explains that, religion or not, most people stay lighthearted about the issue of dying. “It’s a huge taboo to talk about death. But if you don’t talk about it then you come to a crisis unprepared.” Borne of personal loss and the support she has received, she adds, “I’m interested in this equally as an artist and a community member.”
What’s ahead for Tandy Beal and Company? “We have brought excellent artists to children in Watsonville, and we’re working on a project that we hope to bring to Salinas and King City. Stay tuned.”