Tag Archives: Beth Corning

Dancing Wheels Production to Celebrate Music Icon David Bowie


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Dancing Wheels’ Demarco Sleeper and Sara Lawrence-Sucato in Dezaré Foster’s “Labyrinth: A Tribute”. Photos by Dale Dong and Design by G. Michael Bargas.

By Steve Sucato

Last summer when a freakish windstorm knocked out power at Cleveland Heights’ Cain Park, it also took with it Dancing Wheels’ scheduled world-premiere of “Labyrinth: A Tribute,” a dance work based on the 1986 film Labyrinth starring the David Bowie. While the cancellation was certainly unfortunate, it did provide the 36-year-old Cleveland-based physically integrated dance company with the opportunity to now create an entire evening themed around Bowie and his music. The Best of Bowie at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica will not only feature several Bowie-scored dance works, but the production will be interspersed with facts, lesser known trivia and video footage about the late rock icon provided by local Bowie aficionado, CoolCleveland’s Thomas Mulready and be followed by a Bowie-themed post-performance party.

Acting as master of ceremonies for the evening, Mulready says he has had a lifelong interest in Bowie and his music that has weathered the many stylistic changes in Bowie’s music over the span of his career.

“Everything he would come up with was very different from the thing he did before so if you got hooked into the androgyny of Ziggy Stardust and then a few years later he’s doing ‘Young Americans’ and he is like a soul singer, people would turn off and he would get a whole new audience and lose the old one,” says Mulready. “I was there all along.”

Whether as musical alter egos the “Thin White Duke,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Aladdin Sane” or “Major Tom,” David Robert Jones, a.k.a. David Bowie, is one of the most recognizable and revered figures in popular music history. With a string of hits and record sales of some 140 million over his 50-year career, Bowie was one of the world’s best-selling music artists. The multi-talented singer-songwriter, actor, painter, art collector and 1996 Rock Hall-inductee’s death of liver cancer at age 69 in 2016 sent shockwaves worldwide.

In celebration of Bowie’s legacy, The Best of Bowie will open with the premiere of Dancing Wheels’ rehearsal director Catherine Meredith’s “Pallas Athena.” Danced to Bowie’s “Pallas Athena (Don’t Stop Praying mix No 2)” off 1993’s Black Tie White Noise album, the work and the song’s title come from the Greek goddess, Athena, who is depicted in Athenian statues under the form of Pallas Athena. For Bowie, the song grew out of his interest in how man relates to God.

Says Meredith of the piece, “The impetus for the movement came from my years spent in NYC/London nightclubs. For many, the DJ and the club acted as a god and church/sanctuary where people were free to be who they were without judgment.” In it, Meredith says Dancing Wheels’ dozen dancers will represent the individual’s struggle to have their voice heard above the crowd.

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Dancing Wheels in Michael Uthoff’s “Straight Down the Middle”. Photo credit: Ellie Montenegro.

Next, Pittsburgh-based choreographer Beth Corning’s new work “These Are The Days,” reunites Meredith and Dancing Wheels founder/artistic director Mary Verdi-Fletcher with former company dancers Hoang (Mac) Dang, Libby Dang and Shannon Sterne. Corning, whose ongoing Glue Factory Project for dancers over forty has earned her critical acclaim nationally, brings that same sensibility in working with veteran dancers to this work. She describes it as a visceral, metaphoric reflection of her confusion, disbelief and uncertainty at the current social and political climates in U.S. and abroad. Set to a remastered version of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” along with music by Philip Glass, the work will be performed with the cast in wheelchairs.

“My choice to put all the dancers into [wheel]chairs was a conscious one,” says Corning. The [wheel]chair was not a replacement for movement, but rather a vehicle. The armchair liberal, the strange act of passively sitting while physically having to propel yourself in space in circles — an equalizer of sorts — as we pass each other, trying to connect, constantly moving, almost afraid to stop, to connect, to take responsibility, to relate to the moment.”

Students from the Dancing Wheels School will then take the stage in “Lightning,” a new work choreographed by school coordinator Emma Parker along with Brittany Kaplan and Gabriella Martinez. Danced to Bowie’s 1983 hit “Let’s Dance” and the Bowie/Queen collaboration “Under Pressure,” the lighthearted work will be a toe-tapping lead-in to the program’s final work, “Labyrinth: A Tribute.”

Choreographed by former Dancing Wheels’ star Dezaré Foster, the Northeast Ohio premiere of “Labyrinth: A Tribute” is a dance re-envisioning of Jim Henson’s cult classic film. Set to Bowie’s soundtrack for the film, the family-friendly story ballet, like the film, combines drama, humor and a host of quirky characters to tell the tale of young Sarah’s perilous journey to save — in this version — her sister Toby from the malevolent Goblin King.

“I watched this movie as a young child and David Bowie’s music stayed close to my heart,” says Foster. “I hope the combination of music, movement and story will invite you into this fantastical world where goblins are under your bed and just beyond the meadow is a maze full of mystery and magic.”

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Dancing Wheels. Photo by Dale Dong.

Following the production, audience members are invited to stick around for a post-performance party featuring Cleveland glam band Vanity Crash They’ll take the stage to play Bowie and glam rock tunes. There’ll also be dancing, desserts and drinks (cash bar), a silent auction and a dancer meet-and- greet. For those wanting the full VIP experience, Dancing Wheels is also offering a pre-show cocktail party beginning at 6:30 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres, open bar, silent auction and Best of Bowie bling. Funds raised from this event go to supporting Dancing Wheels’ outreach and educational programming and touring.

Dancing Wheels presents The Best of Bowie, 8 p.m., Saturday, June 10; Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, 2014 Sycamore Street, Cleveland. General admission $40, Groups of 10 or more $30/each, VIP tickets $125. (216) 432-0306 or dancingwheels.org.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

This article was first published on CoolCleveland.com, June 3, 2017. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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Sophisticated Choreography Highlights GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Fall Concert Series


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(L-R) GroundWorks’ Lauren Garson, Stephanie Terasaki and Michael Marquez in David Shimotakahara’s “Chromatic.” Photo by Mark Horning.

GroundWorks DanceTheater
2016 Fall Concert Series
Akron-Summit County Library
Akron, Ohio
November 18-19, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

After a successful run in Cleveland at Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre in October, Cleveland-based GroundWorks DanceTheater’s 2016 Fall Concert Series moved to nearby Akron and the Akron-Summit County Library. The program on November 18 opened with the latest work by GroundWorks’ artistic director David Shimotakahara entitled “Chromatic.” The 20-minute piece set to a suite of music by American composer Conlon Nancarrow (1912 –1997) was a stylistic departure for Shimotakahara in the type of movement he created for the troupe’s five dancers.

Costumed in the colors of piano keys, the dancers engaged in a form of movement split personality. From the waist down, they adopted simple dance poses. From the waist up, they were a flurry of activity with hands and arms moving up and down and side-to-side seemingly without regard to rhythm.

Shimotakahara’s unconventional choreography was a reaction to Nancarrow’s cacophony of player piano music that sounded like three different songs being played simultaneously. The effect of both the dance and music was unnerving yet compelling rejecting staid notions of dance as pleasantry. The work’s succession of solos, duets and group dancing found grace and a modicum of humor in sometimes stiff movement, dancers falling and the slapping of hands on thighs.

Next former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer Robyn Mineko Williams’ new commission for GroundWorks, “Part Way,” set a different tone. Danced to Rachmaninoff’s doleful “Trio Elégiaque No. 1 in G Minor,” Williams’ fluid choreography on the dancers cascaded like water tumbling over rocks in a gently flowing stream. GroundWorks’ five dancers touched, grasped, leaned into and folded over each in beautifully-crafted contemporary dance movement. Rachmaninoff’s music and Williams’ choreographic reaction to it, built a tension in the work that spilled out over the stage that was piqued by brief moments of distress and distraction displayed in the dancer’s demeanor. One such moment happened during an intertwining pas de deux danced by Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield in which Bagley, lifted above Highfield’s head, looked sharply about as if her name had been called out from somewhere off in the distance.

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(L-R) GroundWorks’ Lauren Garson, Michael Marquez and Stephanie Terasaki in Robyn Mineko Williams’ “Part Way.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Also of note in the piece, was a solo by Stephanie Terasaki in which she appeared to be pulled backward by her head by some unseen force.  Her body undulated and gave into gravity and her momentum elegantly collapsed to the stage floor at times.

With “Part Way,” Williams created a sophisticated dance work marrying finely crafted contemporary dance movement with emotional vulnerability and drama. It was performed deftly by GroundWorks’ dancers and is a work well worth revisiting by the company.

On the subject of works worth revisiting, the program concluded with a revamped version of Pittsburgh-based dancer/choreographer Beth Corning’s “At Once There Was A House.”

Created on GroundWorks in 2004, the funny and poignant dance-theater piece is one of Corning’s most memorable and best.

Posing the question: Whatever happened to Dick and Jane? – those idealized elementary school educational icons used to teach children in the U.S. to read from the 1930’s through the 1970’s, “At Once There Was A House” catches up with a dysfunctional group of Dick and Janes who life has appeared to have done a number on.

The setting for the dance-theater work was a reunion of sorts where this collection of stereotypical characters (jock, wallflower, prude) with some not-so-stereotypical emotional issues, paraded about to Tom Waits’ song “Table Top Joe” and spoke to the audience as if they were old acquaintances.

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(L-R) GroundWorks’ Lauren Garson, Stephanie Terasaki, Damien Highfield, Felise Bagley and Michael Marquez in Beth Corning’s “At Once There Was A House.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Dancer Lauren Garson was the former homecoming/prom queen, Highfield, the bombastic former star athlete turned car salesman, Terasaki, a nervous shrinking violet, dancer Michael Marquez as a flamboyant character and Bagley as a prudish neat freak who scolded Marquez for his cartoonish pelvic gyrations, calling to him “inappropriate.”

Like a lyric from Waits’ song, “And I dreamed I’d be famous,” the characters appeared to regret in some way how their lives had turned out.

Costumed in white schoolboy and schoolgirl-ish dresses and shorts, the audience got a glimpse into the lives of each of the characters via a series of vignettes that elicited a laugh or broke your heart. From Marquez poignantly dancing behind a life-size puppet in a skirt to a disillusioned Garson dancing a duet with a length of white picket fence and lamenting that the stereotypical American dream wasn’t all it was cracked up to be for her, “At Once There Was A House” touched that universal nerve called empathy.

The most thoughtful, melancholy and gripping performance however belonged to Bagley, whose character’s anger and sorrow lay exposed like an open wound. In a most telling scene, Bagley, seemingly bereft of joy and happiness, set aflame a metal dollhouse, and true to her character’s nature it was a neatly controlled burn; one that perhaps symbolized the controlled burning rage and heartache within her.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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Corning Triumphs in One-Woman Show about Loss


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Beth Corning in CorningWorks’ “Remains -A One-Woman Show.” Photo courtesy of CorningWorks.

CorningWorks
Remains — A One-Woman Show
New Hazlett Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
September 7-11, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In 2013, after an extensive creative residency with Tony Award-winning physical-theater director Dominique Serrand, dancer/choreographer Beth Corning felt ready to tackle the complicated emotions and aftereffects of a string of recent personal tragedies.  The resulting dance-theater work Remains, co-created with Serrand, was a hit with audiences and critics alike for its poignant portrayal of a woman dealing with the feelings and memories generated from going through the physical items left behind by departed family members.

In this latest incarnation of the work entitled Remains — A One-Woman Show, Corning and Serrand teamed up again to rework and refine the original work in order to strip away any extraneous elements and further clarify the intent and arc of the work and Corning’s character within it.  In a lot of ways, they achieved that goal. Doing so without sacrificing any of the empathetic connection the original instilled in audiences.

Backed by a new set design by Britton Mauk of Pittsburgh’s Quantum Theatre that depicted a wall of cardboard moving and storage boxes, and costumed in a new cream-colored coat-dress by award-winning costume designer Sonya Berlovitz, the hour-long multimedia work on September 11 at Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater, began with a quote from the Mahabharata, one of the world’s oldest religious Sanskrit texts that was projected on the wall of boxes. It read: “No man, although he sees others dying around him, believes that he himself will die.” And with that, Corning emerged from a box triumphantly holding a pair of men’s dress shoes; her father’s. Then placing the shoes on her hands, she camel-walked around the stage as the sound effect of a person in heavy-stepped walking rang out.

Like the appearance of a ghost from the past onto the stage, Corning then drifted into a memory of her father in those shoes, remembering and reacting to the sounds of him walking, inhaling the smell of them and drinking in the warm feelings they conjured up in her before the reality of his absence from this world took hold and yanked back to the present.

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Beth Corning in CorningWorks’ “Remains -A One-Woman Show.” Photo courtesy of CorningWorks.

In this scene and all that followed, Corning showcased her adroit acting abilities. Skilled in the art of gesture, she built into her choreography for the work several small, subtle gestures that helped paint a vivid portrait of her character; a woman haunted, often delighted and at times emotionally consumed by the memories that surfaced from within her surrounding the objects contained within those storage boxes.  One repeated gesture, a brief scratch at the back of her calf with her other foot, acted as an unconscious reminder of the uncomfortable feelings itching to break through and spoil her happier memories of departed loved ones.

Set to an eclectic mix of music including that of composer Olafur Arnalds, the work, the latest in CorningWorks’ Glue Factory Project, for nationally or internationally known performers over age 40, as with its previous incarnation, was delivered via a series of moving and dramatic vignettes.

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Beth Corning in CorningWorks’ “Remains -A One-Woman Show.” Photo courtesy of CorningWorks.

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Beth Corning in CorningWorks’ “Remains -A One-Woman Show.” Photo courtesy of CorningWorks.

A dance with a well worn coat, a tête-à-tête using full wine glasses pushed around with her feet and the discovery of forgotten notes in the pockets of garments, all conjured carefully cultivated imagery and emotional states that drew one in as if to take part in them. Most memorable for its heartbreaking impact and fine detail was a scene where Corning dragged out an oblong table and began to set it as she may have done in the past for an extended family dinner. She then mimicked those she imagined seated around the table in conversation — laughing with one another, arguing, and on occasion grabbing at another’s derriere in a marvelous and imaginative dance-pantomime sequence. Overwhelmed with the sudden realization of being the only one left alive to attend such a dinner party, Corning climbed up onto the table and under its white tablecloth, pulling it over her head and laid there corpse-like, shaking and sobbing. It was an achingly sorrowful moment that brought tears to the eyes of this reviewer.

As in 2013, Corning’s performance in Remains — A One-Woman Show was a tour-de-force of well-honed artistic brilliance. More movement theater than straight-up dancing, it along with 2015’s BECKETT & beyond is Corning at her very best. Her collaboration with Serrand once again proved fruitful, yielding a must-see production for any dance and theater-goer.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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