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At 5:15, a large crowd has already gathered in the Kennedy Center’s cavernous Grand Foyer to wait in line for the 6 o’clock Millennium Stage performance of Beyond Boundaries. After they’re ushered into their seats, however, the audience members don’t engage in the usual pre-show ritual of chatting quietly and reading programs—they all want to know about the shoes.

“Are those actual shoes up there? What do you think those are for?” says one woman to her companion. Many of the children in attendance approach the stage to get a closer look at the pairs of sneakers, loafers, and pumps that line the front of the stage.

The audience continues to buzz about the shoes until the second piece of the evening, when dancer Nejla Yatkin, 31, doffs her shirt and dons a giant pair of angel wings—providing a striking image that forces those in attendance to forget about footwear for a bit.

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“The shoes are for the people who are gone,” explains Yatkin after the performance. “I wanted to have something present as a symbol of the people who were lost.”

Beyond Boundaries was created by the German-born Yatkin, who has lived in the D.C. area for the past two-and-a-half years, to commemorate the events of last Sept. 11. The show consists of two original pieces: “Out on the INside,” written in response to the terrorist attacks and their aftermath, and “Echoes of Hope for Those Still on the Ground,” which was inspired by the works of poet Rainer Maria Rilke andoriginally choreographed last year. “As an artist, I had to present something about [Sept. 11],” says Yatkin. “I had to say something.”

A dance professor at the University of Maryland, Yatkin says that until she walked into the campus student union, she thought reports of the attacks last year were some kind of joke. Usually bustling with activity, the union was instead filled with students silently watching television. “It was so strange to see that,” she recalls.

Yatkin, who in addition to teaching has danced with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and Cleo Parker Robinson Dance and lent her talent to commercial clients such as IBM and MTV, says that the idea to create a piece about Sept. 11 came to her last December. She began work on “Out on the INside” after receiving a well-timed grant from the Kennedy Center’s annual Millennium Stage Local Dance Commissioning Project this past January. “It just happened,” she says. “It wasn’t planned.”

Over the next six months, Yatkin called on lighting and videographic designers to help her create a backdrop of colorful lights and moving images to dance against. For her soundtrack, she decided to use excerpts from interviews conducted with artists from around the globe. “I collected the interviews and tried to use them to build a story,” Yatkin says. “And the different voices—the accents—were interesting to me.”

Yatkin says that creating a piece on such a grim theme was “very emotional.” But she seems to regard audience approval as a suitable reward for the difficult process: At Saturday’s premiere, many of the most enthusiastic viewers were the same students whose reaction to the terrorist attacks had helped inspire the show. “They came up to me afterward,” she says, “[and said,] ‘Oh, we’re so glad that you’re our teacher! I’m so glad I’m in your class!’” —Sarah Godfrey