New Hazlett Theater
March 26, 2010
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
For the first production of the newly formed Corning Works, dancer/choreographer Beth Corning returned to a familiar format. The former artistic director of Pittsburgh’s Dance Alloy Theater resurrected her The Glue Factory Project series begun in Minneapolis more than a decade ago that features performers over the age of 40.
In her latest work for the Project, A Seat at the Table, Corning brought together an all-star cast of veteran dancers (including herself) along with lighting designer/performer David Covey to explore what it means to have a proverbial “seat at the table.”
The mostly abstract vignettes of this dance-theater work, set to music ranging from Donna Summer to Meredith Monk, delved into notions of inclusion, power, and the costs of garnering a “privileged” status. Some of those risks were illustrated in Corning’s solo for former Martha Graham Dance Company principal Peter Sparling, set to Rinde Eckert’s song “Sitting on Top of the World.” Sparling took on the character of a businessman whose unabashed greed cost him in his personal and social life.
In another more humorous example, Corning, Sparling, and Covey—along with dancers Janet Lilly, Michael Blake and Cathy Young—played a game of musical chairs, giggling and teasing one another like children while still maintaining a level of adult cynicism and competitiveness. The game came to its metaphoric end when Covey cheated to win and watched Corning storm off the stage.
For the most part Corning’s choreography played to each dancer’s movement strengths. But like watching aging professional athletes, one noticed they had lost a few steps. In some of Corning’s livelier dance sections the movement looked shaky and labored. What the dancers appeared to have lost in physical prowess, however, they more than made up for in artistic interpretation. Each of the performers was a sharp and engaging actor. Their small gestures and glances spoke volumes.
In one particularly poignant segment, Corning and Sparling, separated by a small tabletop, acted as a couple whose pride had robbed them of the ability to communicate with each other. Each gestured toward the other without ever looking at them. Equally moving was a tableau of defeated spirits, created by four dancers posed around a 24-foot-long table, as Corning danced mournfully atop it.
Wonderfully constructed and thoughtfully performed, A Seat at the Table was a delight and proved that at Dance’s table, talented individuals, regardless of age, always deserve a seat.
This review first appeared on Dance Magazine’s website April 7, 2010. Copyright Steve Sucato