At 4:30 p.m. on January 2, 2007, a family in Freehold, New Jersey, heard a loud bang upstairs. On investigation, they discovered that a small chunk of metal had crashed through their roof, torn through the bathroom ceiling, and lodged itself in the wall.
In the ensuing weeks, this object became a source of speculation for law enforcement, scientists, and the public at large. The story was picked up by newspapers and magazines across the nation, journalists swarmed the neighborhood, and the family found that their lives had been changed forever.
On the other side of the country, choreographer Mira Kingsley read the story and was captivated. She had grown up in New Jersey just a few miles from the event, and she began to imagine what such an impact might have had on her own life. “I was struck by the fact that it was a three-person family,” she explained in a recent phone interview. “I too grew up as an only child. I thought about a meteorite coming millions of miles over millions of years, and the meaning the family made about its arrival. I immediately knew I wanted and needed to make a piece about it.”
The dance-theater work she created, Yes is a long time, premiered in Los Angeles in 2008. This weekend, it’s being restaged at UCSB’s Hatlen Theater. Kingsley calls it a play because it narrates a specific story, but says it’s also a highly physical performance.
Kingsley serves on the dance faculty at UCSB, and though she has shown work and directed student choreography here, Yes is a long time marks her first full-length piece to be produced by the university. The commission also marks a turning point for the department’s professional company, Santa Barbara Dance Theatre, as longtime director Jerry Pearson steps down.
Yes is a long time is a collaboration between Kingsley, who also performs, and playwright Sibyl O’Malley, who, like Kingsley, admitted a fascination with seemingly mundane events that carry a profound impact. “Most of the stories we’ve adapted involve something that could be considered a miracle, but is also small and kind of unglamorous,” she said. The theme of transcendence in simplicity guides their approach in rehearsals and performance, O’Malley explained. “Everything in the show is made by the performers. When they show you the meteorite, they put yellow dust on their hands and open and close their fingers in such a way that it looks like a blinking object. It’s an incredibly simple, almost silly gesture, but we invest it with power.”
The show’s creators also took inspiration from medieval illuminated manuscripts and have aimed to re-create the symbolic imagery and skewed perspective of those pre-Renaissance images. At times, the text suggests one thing; the movement, another.
Joining her onstage are Hawai‘i-based pastor and performer Antonio Anagaran Jr. and Jacqueline Kim, an L.A.-based actress whom Kingsley met through Buddhist dharma practice. Though Kingsley says the play is not religious, she acknowledges that the performers’ spirituality has been integral to the creative process. “We don’t really use props, so we are creating the space for the audience over and over again,” she explained. “That approach speaks to the philosophy that we are all creating our own experience of the world, so we are empowered to totally transform our lives. We can see the world as a beautiful place, or as a chaotic, random smack in the face. This family is fighting to maintain faith that their lives have purpose.”
Kingsley’s hope is that Yes is a long time will go on to tour the country. She’s already in talks with a regional theater in New Jersey and hopes that the family whose story inspired the production might one day see what she created. “Of course, I don’t even know if they like theater.”
Yes is a long time plays at UCSB’s Hatlen Theater Friday, September 30-Sunday, October 2. For tickets and show times, call 893-3022 or visit www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu.