Why This Matters: An ASC Cultural Vision Grant supports “Heaven,” the Moving Poets Charlotte production that uses contemporary arts and a range of voices to challenge misconceptions and prejudices that currently divide our communities.
By Bernie Petit
Getting to “Heaven”—the culmination of four previous developmental stages of the larger evolving project “We See Heaven Upside Down”—is like putting together a 50,000-piece puzzle, said Moving Poets Charlotte founder and director Till Schmidt-Rimpler.
Or, said visual artist and Moving Poets artistic director MyLoan Dinh, sewing a quilt.
“Quilts are often created collectively. There are quilting bees where people come together to share little bits and pieces of textiles or fabric that they want to share with other people,” Dinh said. “They sew together and then as they’re sewing together, they’re sharing their stories, so you can see (‘Heaven’) as kind of a quilt of stories that come together to create something very colorful and unique.”
The ambitious production, which uses music, theater, film, visual art, video-mapping and dance to weave together stories of migration, displacement and the tenacity of the human spirit, takes place Feb. 27–March 1 at Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.
Its creation is supported by a $5,000 ASC Cultural Vision Grant to build community by connecting individuals across points of difference to increase understanding, acceptance and positive regard between our communities.
“This is a new piece,” Dinh said. “It’s fantastic that this grant is able to help us create something that has never been seen before in any other place.”
“Heaven,” inspired by the poem “Fallen Moon Fallen Stars” by North Carolina poet Chuck Sullivan, travels through the realities and dreams of Maria-Helena, a detained immigrant child.
Separated from her parents and maneuvering an upside-down heaven in her holding cage, she must find a “lamp besides the golden door” to be released. Supported by Mother Mary and the ghost of her deceased brother, she discovers it hidden under the treasures of a narcissistic Pinocchio.
Maria-Helena must convince Pinocchio to give up the lamp, with the help of the audience, whose own response and participation may change events.
“The focus is this little girl but really it takes you through this tale that connects to different people who have immigrated to the United States and this story of displacement,” Dinh said. “We’re trying to make all of these connections to show this is not a recent thing. This is something that has happened throughout history, but it is also a reminder of this shared history that we have.”
Those connections are not only made through the inspired narrative but through the real stories and real people involved in the production.
Moving Poets began the multiphase “We See Heaven Upside Down” project in Berlin, Germany in 2015. To date, the project has had input from 65 artists, including established and emerging visual artists, acclaimed performers and musicians, distinguished poets and hundreds of students and citizens, local refugee agencies and Native American associations.
Among the Charlotte artists involved are Nico Amortegui, Michelle Gregory and Rosalia Torres-Weiner, who also contributed to the project’s six-week exhibition at Elder Gallery of Contemporary Art in 2019.
The upcoming iteration will showcase these artists in new way.
“Rosalia–her murals are everywhere in Charlotte and now it’s not only her work but it’s also her,” Dinh said. “She’s going to be onstage. (Audiences are) going to get to know a little bit more about her personal story. The same thing with Nico. He’s creating part of the stage set design which is very much Nico’s stylistically but it’s in a different form than you would normally see his work.”
The work is as personal to those artists as it is for both Dinh, a former refugee from Vietnam, and Schmidt-Rimpler, who immigrated to the U.S. from Germany.
It’s a thought-provoking piece that challenges conventional notions about the methods of and needs for immigration in the U.S., Schmidt-Rimpler said. It also emphasizes the unexpected iterations that make life meaningful.
“If it wasn’t for us being disrupted and also being confronted with the occasional stranger or different perspective,” he said, “we probably would be bored to death.”
Making “Heaven” a Place in Charlotte
The Moving Poets production “Heaven,” which culminates the four previous developmental stages of the larger evolving project “We See Heaven Upside Down,” takes place Feb. 27–March 1 in the Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center (130 N. Tryon St., Charlotte).
Told through contemporary dance, theater, music, film, video-mapping and visual arts, the story travels through realities and dreams of Maria-Helena, a detained immigrant child separated from her parents and maneuvering an upside-down heaven in her holding cage.
Tickets are $20–$34. For more details, visit https://movingpoets.org/charlotte/index.php.