Maybe it’s apt that the forging of the Statue of Liberty’s arm and torch and “We See Heaven Upside Down” each took about five years from conception to fruition.

Both “Liberty” and “We See” encourage us to treat immigrants with respect and consideration. Both relied on a combination of private and public money. Each depended on input from artists of various nationalities. Both came to fruition at times when certain kinds of immigrants were and are regarded with suspicion and contempt.

MyLoan Dinh and Till Schmidt-Rimpler, the main forces behind Moving Poets here and in Berlin, will produce the fifth and possibly final “migration” of “We See” Feb. 27-March 1 at Booth Playhouse. The road will end — to the extent Moving Poets ever “ends” anything — with a music-dance-theater-spoken word-visual art-puppetry piece titled “Heaven,” which asks us to gut-check our preconceptions and anxieties about those who seem alien to us.

Explanations without images seldom do justice to this company, but let’s try: We enter the realities and dreams of Maria-Helena, an immigrant child separated from her parents and placed in a holding cage. To be released, she must find a “lamp beside the golden door.” (That phrase comes from “The New Colossus,” Emma Lazarus’ poem on a plaque inside Liberty’s pedestal.)

She’s supported by the ghost of her murdered brother and Mother Mary — many Mothers Mary, actually — and opposed by narcissistic Pinocchio, who must give up the lamp and other treasures to become a full human being. Audience involvement changes the outcome nightly.

“It’s a fairy tale,” Schimdt-Rimpler said. “Pinocchio isn’t one-dimensionally evil: He’s selfish and a liar and obsessed with material goods, but that connects him to something that’s in most of us. He’s redeemable. We artists are sort of like the Blue Fairy, the conscience who brings out what’s human about him.”


If you visited last spring’s show “We See Heaven Upside Down” at Elder Galley of Contemporary Art — it had a small audience-participation component — you may have a faint idea what to expect from “Heaven.” (All five migrations have been site-specific.)

Some of the artists from that exhibition will be in the performance, in ways that may make them uncomfortable: Painter Rosalia Torres-Weiner will play a character, and painter-sculptor Nico Amortegui has been trained to build and operate puppets as large as 9 feet tall. Schmidt-Rimpler said, “We like to challenge artists as well as audiences.”

The couple are foreign-born — he in Germany and she in Vietnam, so they’re naturally sympathetic to immigrants. You might think this series came about as a response to the acrimonious division in the U.S. since the 2016 presidential election, but the first ideas for it popped up in Berlin in 2015.

“People in the U.S. were reading about Syrian refugees, but Germany was taking in a million of them,” Schmidt-Rimpler said. “Buildings were converted to house them. An old historic airport in the center of the city became a refugee center.

“By and large, people were positive and felt we had to help them. On the other side, there was a little fear and prejudice, with the idea that we could not solve everybody’s problems. But these refugees were fleeing a civil war, where they could not cross the street without looking for a sniper. Germans (who opposed them) had never experienced anything like that.”

Dinh said, “A lot of folks we met and worked with had family elsewhere, maybe a brother in Lebanon and parents at a refugee camp in Turkey. They’d really been split up. And they were just trying to get a better life somewhere.”

Fast-forward to 2020, when the influx approaching the United States comes from the south, and we find ourselves making difficult decisions. Schmidt-Rimpler and Dinh remind us that, as he said, “This dialogue has to happen at a human level: You can’t just look at statistics.”

Hence “Heaven,” which casts a wide net across the local artistic community. Poet Chuck Sullivan, composer David Crowe, cellist Tanja Bechtler, guitarist Bob Teixeira, keyboardist Tom Constanten, native American dancers Perry and Sarah Eastman and Movement Migration founders Kim Jones and E.E. Balcos will make significant contributions. Dancers from Charlotte Ballet’s pre-professional program will take part, and choreographer Schmidt-Rimpler will oversee it all. A $5,000 Arts & Science Council Cultural Vision Grant helped make this happen.

Ask if they’re swimming against the tide in America of the ’20s, and they reply after a pause.

“These challenges existed long before now, but they’ve gotten worse and been magnified,” Dinh said. “Awareness of the topic is greater. It’s hard to ignore children in cages, and the pictures bring it home. My mechanism for coping with this is to inhale all the information, process it, then exhale it as a form of artistic expression I can share.”

“We believe people can be blind and numb and aggressive but can move beyond that,” Schmidt-Rimpler said. “The young people in this show are our reference to youth being our future. They’ll be the ones to move the world forward.”

– Lawrence Toppman | The Charlotte Observer