Tag Archives: CorningWorks

CorningWorks’ ‘with a shadow of…’ a Muddling of Liminal Space


CORNINGWORKS_ Catherine hires

Catherine Meredith in CorningWorks’ “with a shadow of…” Photo by Frank Walsh.

CorningWorks – with a shadow of…
New Hazlett Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
March 27-31, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In the lead up to her latest GLUE FACTORY PROJECT work with a shadow of…, dancer/choreographer Beth Corning said “I hope nobody makes any sense of this work; none.”

Mission accomplished.

Pittsburgh’s queen of metaphor outdid herself with the hourlong collection of mind minutia and movement that proved as baffling as it was visually breathtaking.

Thematically said to reflect “the moment before sleep and the moment before waking,” with a shadow of… did well in capturing the surrealness of such moments.  Where the dance-theater work fell short was in conveying purpose beyond that initial idea and in achieving the deep-reaching emotional connections with the viewer that have been a hallmark of Corning’s works. Having over the years taken in the breadth of Corning’s works created for her now 10-year-old organization CorningWorks, in some ways with a shadow of… may be the least impressive choreographically while also being a bold visual step forward for one of the region’s most intriguing dance artists.

The final performance of the work’s run on Sunday, March 31 at the New Hazlett Theater began with a prelude dance improvisation by cast member Janis Brenner.  On a darkened stage, Brenner, an award-winning choreographer herself and the artistic director of Janis Brenner & Dancers in New York, darted in and out of shadow performing an energetic modern dance solo as audience members filtered into the theater.  The sound effect of a cell phone ringing ended her solo and officially began the work.

Danced to a montage of atmospheric music with a shadow of… bounced between vignettes that bordered on genius and tedium.  The opening vignette had New York dance icon David Dorfman pulling a curled up and supposedly sleeping Brenner in a red wagon around the stage and continuing to act as if doing so after he had let go of the wagon’s handle.  It was followed by Corning and the work’s final cast member Catherine Meredith (choreographer and rehearsal director for Cleveland’s Dancing Wheels) in each other’s arms rolling on to the stage like human tumbleweed.

CORNINGWORKS_ Janis hires1

Janis Brenner in CorningWorks’ “with a shadow of…” Photo by Frank Walsh.

That scene led into the work’s first bit of tedium, watching the cast members piled upon and rolling over one another for an extended period. A go to move for pop up improvisation sessions and student choreographers, “the moving pile of bodies” is one of dance’s most boring clichés. Undoubtedly a metaphor related to the partial inspiration for the work, Corning’s feelings that current U.S. political and social climates have created a reality in which little makes sense, the dance phrase perhaps intentionally played into that dulling of the senses.  Repeated later in the work, it was made more palatable when Brenner, standing and shadowing the pile of dancers as they rolled about, pulled from her pocket a clementine that she peeled and ate while waiting for something interesting to happen in the moving pile — nothing did and maybe that was the point.

While the work contained a few more mind-wandering-off-to-make-a-grocery-list-moments such as Brenner dragging around a potted tree on an upper side balcony, there were also delicious nuggets such as a sweeping and dreamy solo by Meredith in a long dress that she melted into after Corning carried her onstage on her shoulders, and a breathy and fun full cast unison dance that saw Dorfman become giddy with the joyful feeling of it.

The unequivocal star of the production however was Iain Court’s brilliant lighting and stage effects worthy of a Broadway production.  Bathed in an almost constant stage fog, the dancers moved through dazzling lighting patterns and spotlights that not only highlighted them but sometimes followed after them like a puppy dog.  Easily the most ambitious and successful of the Corning and Court collaborations to date, the visual theatrics culminated in a genius moment with Corning dancing a slow-moving, Isadora Duncan-like solo under a heavy waterfall of stage fog.  Partially obscured by the fog at all times, Corning’s graceful and fluid hand and arm movements appeared and disappeared from view like a siren call to the audience to come join her.

As with all of Corning’s works, they are essentially a response to the human condition. And like most choreographers she would like audiences to discover their own meanings, feelings and truths in her work. But with as celebrated a cast of performers as was assembled for with a shadow of…, one can’t help but wish the choreography and the driving purpose behind the work did more to let those talents shine.  As theatrical eye-candy however, with a shadow of… was a knockout.

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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CorningWorks’ ‘six a breast’ reveals how many women really feel


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(L-R) Beth Corning, Laurie Van Wieren and Sally Rousse in the closing section of CorningWorks’ “six a breast,” Samuel Beckett’s “Come and Go.” Photo by Foo Connor.

CorningWorks – six a breast
New Hazlett Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
September 6-10, 2017

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Billed as a work about the absurdity of expectations placed on women by society, CorningWorks’ latest The Glue Factory Project (for performers over age 45), six a breast (2017), September 9 at Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater, wasted no time in thoughtfully highlighting such absurdities. Whether it was the slow-motion, Butoh-like movement performed in silence by the work’s choreographer Beth Corning to indicate women’s cautiousness or perhaps slow advancement in society, or the jazzy shuffling and side-stepping moves of dancer Sally Rousse looking as if to heed the nursery rhyme warning of “stepping on a crack,” the work’s opening volley of metaphorical imagery made a strong statement that women go through a lot to navigate their way in the world. And when the work’s trio of women (including Laurie Van Wieren) in a grand exhale, spit out mouthfuls of water they had been holding in, it was also made clear this work was going to also have some fun highlighting these absurdities.

Delivered in a series of clever vignettes, six a breast took the road less preachy in getting audience members to think about and relate to how women (perhaps more generationally) have been treated and trained to feel about their place in society and their roles in relationships with men. Illustrating those themes, the two vignettes that followed played into women’s perceived roles. The first had Corning in caretaker mode anxious to have a spill cleaned up. And when her call of a “cleanup on aisle nine” yielded no response, she wiped it up herself.  The second parodied society’s not so subtle pressures on women to look a certain way and featured the ladies in a farcical skit set to Eddie Cantor’s song “Keep Young and Beautiful” from the 1933 movie musical Roman Scandals. The prophetic tune extols the virtue of women keeping young and beautiful if they want to be loved. In the vignette, Van Wieren hilariously went overboard in a gaudy make-up application, Rousse used the crumpled pages of fashion magazines to stuff her garments and enlarge certain areas of her anatomy, and Corning stretched tape across her face to try and pull back wrinkles, all to the delight of the audience.

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(L-R) Laurie Van Wieren and Sally Rousse in CorningWorks’ “six a breast.” Photo by Foo Connor.

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(L-R) Beth Corning and Sally Rousse in CorningWorks’ “six a breast.” Photo by Foo Connor.

Throughout six a breast, the veteran trio of women were a joy to watch. Modern dancers Corning and Van Wieren and ballerina Rousse who know each other from working in the Minneapolis dance community, each showcased their varied, but finely honed skills as performers and movers and together had wonderful on stage chemistry.

Perhaps the best example of the work’s humor came in a poke at domesticity where each of the women at different times in the work took a crack at folding bed sheets. Corning approached the task with the dramatic flair of a showbiz magic trick, Rousse playfully used her feminine seductiveness to lure a male audience member into doing it for her, and Van Wieren executed it with the funny but disastrous outcome of an “I Love Lucy” episode.

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Beth Corning in CorningWorks’ “six a breast.” Photo by Foo Connor.

Balancing the ridiculousness and humor of many of the vignettes, were poignant moments such as Rousse literally dropping egg shells on to the stage and walking on them with Corning following behind to sweep them up, and in other sections where the dancers used a smiles and laughter to mask feelings of melancholy and despair or bows and curtsies to show subservience. These types of moments are the glue that often hold together Corning’s dance-theater works and raise them to high art.  No one in the region does this better and with such consistency.  The most striking of these moments, and an inspired ending to six a breast, was the inclusion of Samuel Beckett’s 1965 “dramaticule” Come and Go. In it, the three women in stylish hats sat on a bench and engaged in a round-robin gossip session about each other consisting of only 130 carefully spoken and poisoning words.

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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CorningWorks’ ‘Beckett & Beyond’ an Artistic Triumph


Beth Corning in CorningWork's The Glue Factory Project:

Beth Corning in CorningWork’s The Glue Factory Project: “Beckett & Beyond.” Photo by Foo Connor.

CorningWorks
The Glue Factory Project: Beckett & Beyond
New Hazlett Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
September 13, 2015

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Dancer/choreographer Beth Corning has been a unique voice on the Pittsburgh dance scene since arriving in 2003 to take over the reins at the now defunct Dance Alloy.  It has been with her 5-year-old umbrella organization CorningWorks however, that she has upped the ante on the level of dance-theater work she is producing. Work that is more often than not entertaining, detailed, cerebrally challenging and powerfully moving. With her latest Glue Factory Project (projects featuring performers over age 45) work Beckett & Beyond, Corning and crew offered up perhaps her most theatrical work yet.

The 70-minute Beckett & Beyond, set to music by MaryEllen Childs, Kronos Quartet and Meredith Monk, was bookended by two short physical-theater pieces by Nobel Prize-winning playwright Samuel Beckett.

On a set designed and constructed by Stephanie Mayer-Staley featuring a white dance floor raised at the back end that led into a white back drop with papier-mâché clouds suspended above, the production had the look and feel of a work one might see on stages in Stockholm or Berlin rather than at North Side’s New Hazlett Theater. It began with Beckett’s “Act Without Words II.” In it, a pile of clothes and two large bags were left onstage from which veteran performer Francoise Fournier emerged from inside one after some prodding from a long pole that humorously inched out from a side wing to poke the bag she was in. Fournier’s character was a pill-popping woman soured by the seeming drudgery of her everyday life. She muddled through getting dressed in an oversized mens suit, had a distaste for vegetables and struggled with the metaphoric chores of life, represented by her unsuccessfully trying to drag hers and the other bag across the stage. Former Cullberg Ballet dancer Yvan Auzely, who then emerged from the other bag after more prodding, was Fournier’s opposite, an archetypical “morning person” who approached the same tasks as Fournier’s character but with energetic vigor. The pair’s performances in Beckett’s bleak and simple commentary on human existence were meticulous and captivating.

The Corning choreographed middle section of Beckett & Beyond that followed felt as if it, and the Beckett works, had always been linked. The work’s thematic questions on existence and humanity’s place in it were a potent heart and mind stimulant. At once provoking the viewer to see the cyclical and often futile nature of life, then spurring them to ponder their own existence.

Yvan Auzely in CorningWork's The Glue Factory Project:

Yvan Auzely in CorningWork’s The Glue Factory Project: “Beckett & Beyond.” Photo by Foo Connor.

It began with Corning, tethered by a thin red bungee cord, walking as if teetering on a high-wire, keenly aware of her balance.  The red bungee cord a metaphoric reference to an East Asian legend/belief that we are all connected by an invisible red thread to those we are destined to meet in our lives. In Corning’s case that thread was suddenly severed, as the cord that ran from her into a side wing snapped, pelting her with its recoil. The red thread theme continued with Auzely in a solo in which he weaved a spider web out of the red bungee cord across the stage, and then with Fournier in a solo, looking pregnant and acting mentally unstable. A highlight of the work, Fournier’s bundle of joy turned out to be a bundle of clothes stuffed under her shirt that she treated as cherished memories. Muttering in French, she wandered about the stage pulling children’s outfits and others out from her shirt and then with a laugh, sigh or tear, pinned them to the red bungee cord as if it was a clothesline. Each brief, emotional moment conjured up a universally relatable story about her character’s past life. Fournier is a marvelous dancer/actress and she shone in the solo.

The work continued with the trio of dancers performing perhaps the most physical dance choreography I have seen in a Glue Factory Project production to date. The 50-plus-year-old dancers hurled themselves onto one another and trotted around the stage without strain.

Perhaps intentionally or unintentionally Corning’s choreography at times was reminiscent of the late Pina Bausch’s work. The dancers as a trio, arms about each other’s waists and running in a circle, along with scenes of rapid emotional changes in expression, were Bausch-esque. Similarities aside, the work had Corning’s choreographic style imprinted all over it.

Yvan Auzely and Francoise Fournier in CorningWork's The Glue Factory Project:

Yvan Auzely and Francoise Fournier in CorningWork’s The Glue Factory Project: “Beckett & Beyond.” Photo by Hakan Larsson.

Beckett & Beyond reached its climax with the second of Beckett’s physical-theater works, “Rockaby.” Performed impeccably by Corning, the repetitive solo, directed by Pittsburgh’s Melissa Grande, was perhaps the most challenging for audience member’s attention spans but was also the most beautiful and poignant section of Beckett & Beyond.  Like a narrative version of Ravel’s “Bolero,” Corning, in a dimly lit rocking chair, rocked back and forth as if on autopilot while a voiceover of her reciting Beckett’s dialogue for the piece repeated. With each go round, another phrase was added telling the story of an elderly woman who, locked in her own mind, spent her remaining days rocking in her chair and staring out a window. Corning was at her very best in “Rockaby,” her emotionally nuanced facial expressions and yearning utterances of the word “more” were soul-piercing. Was she calling for more of the story to be revealed; hers or the universe’s? Or did she just not want her life to end?

The production concluded with twenty-something guest artists Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight (a.k.a. slowdanger) reprising Beckett’s “Act Without Words II,” further driving home the idea that life’s treadmill was never ending, generation after generation.

Beckett & Beyond is a complete work from top to bottom and worthy of repeated viewings to soak in everything it has to offer and for the simple fact it’s pretty great.  To CorningWorks I say: more please.

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