By Steve Sucato
Of all Beth Corning’s dance-theater works, none in recent memory has been remounted more often than At Once There Was a House. Choreographed in 2004 for Cleveland’s GroundWorks Dancetheater, the piece was reworked twice for Corning’s former company, Dance Alloy Theater (most recently in 2006), and is being revisited to celebrate her company CorningWorks’ fifth anniversary. A new, hour-long version of the critically acclaimed audience favorite will receive five performances as part of CorningWorks’ annual Glue Factory Project, at the New Hazlett Theater, March 25-29.
This version retains much from the old work. But as with prior productions, its characters will be refashioned around the personalities of a multi-disciplinary cast that includes: Corning, Squonk Opera’s Jackie Dempsey, Attack Theatre’s Michele de la Reza, former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre soloist Tamar Rochelle Tolentino, actor/musician John Gresh and former Paul Taylor Dance Company dancer Yoav Kaddar.
Why remount the work yet again? “I really wanted to see more mature performers take it on,” says Corning. “Of my works, this one really had the potential to be something more with seasoned bodies.”
At Once There Was a House asks the question: What ever happened to Dick and Jane? Books featuring these idealized elementary-school icons taught children in the U.S. to read from the 1930s through the 1970s.
Set to a collage of music from classical to Tom Waits, the somewhat dark work drops in on characters who have gathered for a rather bizarre class reunion in which the audience is a participant of sorts. There’s the shy one, the self-important one, the cocky athlete and others.
“Everyone is really just Dick and Jane, even though they have their own characters,” says Corning.
Who they really are gets revealed in a series of funny, thought-provoking and poignant scenes choreographed by Corning.
For much of the over-40 cast, House is a trip down memory lane, but also an adventure into the unknown. “The idea of dancing and being a character was a foreign idea to me,” says Dempsey, best known as Squonk’s keyboardist.
Many in the House cast report that same fish-out-of-water feeling. But it’s a feeling that, in past productions, Corning has had a knack for turning into insightful, emotional and very human performances.
CorningWorks presents At Once There Was a House; Wed., March 25-Sun., March 29; New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. $25-50 (March 29 show is pay-what-you-can). 888-718-4253 or newhazletttheater.org.
This article first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper March 18, 2015. Copyright Steve Sucato.