Tag Archives: Dance

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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Documentary ‘Bobbi Jene’ Chronicles a Life in Transition

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Bobbi Jene performs her solo piece at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In the opening scene of Elvira Lind’s documentary Bobbi Jene (2017), American dancer Bobbi Jene Smith is nude on all fours looking like a Michelangelo sculpture come to life. As she twists and contorts her muscular frame, her long raven hair sweeps back and forth across her body. This powerful and jolting imagery from Smith’s solo work “A Study on Effort,” not only reveals her natural beauty as a woman, it  hints at the powerful artistry that made her a star dancer for world-renowned Israeli dance company Batsheva. For the remainder of the 95-minute documentary, the 35-year-old director and girlfriend of Star Wars actor Oscar Isaac, sought to reveal the person beneath the skin during a life-altering transition in Smith’s young adult life.

The documentary takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to chronicling events in Smith’s life just as she has decided to leave contemporary dance company Batsheva after a decade (2005-2014) and move back to the United States to pursue a solo career as a dancer/choreographer.

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Bobbi Jene rehearsing with Batsheva Dance company in Tel Aviv.

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Bobbi Jene talking with mentor and artistic director of Batsheva Dance company, Ohad Naharin.

A Centerville, Iowa-native and alumnus of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and the North Carolina School of the Arts, Smith, barely out of her teens, left New York’s prestigious Juilliard School early to join Batsheva. Other than a few sentences spouted by an Israeli TV host during an interview with Smith, the film offers little biographical information on Smith, choosing instead to focus on the here and now of her life. That approach early on gives the documentary the feel of watching an episode of reality TV series MTV’s The Real World or Ballet West’s soap-operatic Breaking Pointe. Scenes of Smith with Batsheva company founder and artistic director Ohad Naharin where it is revealed the two were former lovers foster that perception. In one such scene at a restaurant where the two are discussing Smith’s leaving the company, an overtly flirtatious Naharin seemed to try to use their former romantic relationship as a way to convince her to stay. Also playing into that reality TV feel was 30-year-old Smith’s current romantic relationship with fellow Batsheva dancer, Israeli Or Schraiber who is ten years her junior.  Much of the documentary is devoted to the emotional rollercoaster the pair are on trying to navigate Smith’s leaving and the effect that will have on their relationship and careers.

Using quick cuts to piece together scenes of everyday life including Smith and Schraiber in intimate situations, the documentary is measured in revealing substantive details and motivations in Smith and Schraiber’s lives. It is after Smith returns to the United States and begins teaching at Stanford University and working on “A Study on Effort,” that we begin to see what earned the film Best Documentary Feature, Best Cinematography in a Documentary Feature and Best Editing in a Documentary Feature awards at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

With Smith’s realization that her life having been frontloaded with many dancers’ dream job was both a blessing and a curse we begin to get a real sense of Smith and her feeling of being unprepared for life after Batsheva.

“I never thought of the future ever,” says Smith.

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Bobbi Jene develops her new performance in the streets of New York.

While Smith’s personal life in the film may at times appear rudderless and prone to emotional turmoil, the film does a wonderful job in driving home how she harnesses that turmoil in her choreography and dancing. In one such scene, Smith in a dinner party conversation with actress Laura Dern reveals how  what she calls the “mindfuck” of her learning and practicing Naharin’s Gaga movement technique helped conquer her eating disorder. But perhaps the most captivating scenes relating to this and in the film are of Smith working on “A Study on Effort.”  We see her unyielding commitment in developing her choreography for the contemporary dance work by relentlessly pushing with all her might against a handball court wall, jumping and reaching skyward at an increasing pace until she becomes exhausted, and in the film’s most provocative scene, rubbing her genitalia on a 50 pound bag of sand until she orgasms.

“Sometimes you need to find pleasure with what weighs you down,” says Smith.

Smith goes on to perform the solo at Stanford and at The Israel Museum to rave reviews including that of Naharin who she says tells her, if he had seen the solo when he was younger it would have changed his life. We get the sense in the film that it is Smith’s life that is perhaps most effected by the solo; artistically taking one step closer to coming out from under Naharin’s long shadow.

“I want to get to that place where I have no strength to hide anything,” says Smith.

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Bobbi Jene and Or in Israeli desert. Two lovers getting ready to part ways.

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Bobbi Jene and Or reunites in New York after months apart.

The film concludes unremarkably with a hopeful scene of Smith teaching a Gaga class to a room full of multi-generational dance students. As for a resolution to Schraiber and Smith’s romantic relationship that dominates the film? The film only hints at it with Schraiber saying of their long distance relationship that he is not in the same place as Smith and Smith saying they dream too much and are “not good with the reality stuff.”

In the end, what works for Bobbi Jene as a film, not so much as a dance documentary  (there is very little dance in it), is the empathy created for the bright-eyed Smith who you cannot help but feel for and root for as she walks a tightrope between cultures, generational norms and what was and what will be. Unfiltered, undressed and unabashed, Smith is truly magnetic in the film that despite its soap-operatic beginning, if you stick with, has the power to stick with you.


Directed by Elvira Lind
Featuring – Bobbi Jene Smith, Or Schraiber, Ohad Naharin
Produced by Sonntag Pictures – Julie Leerskov & Sara Stockmann
Film Editor – Adam Nielsen
Cinematographer – Elvira Lind
Music composed & Performed by Uno Helmersson
Sound designer – Martin Sandström & Jacques Pedersen
Co-producer – Mathilde Dedye
Run Time: 95 minutes; Not Rated
Country:  Denmark | Sweden | Israel | USA
Language:  English
Release Date:  6 October 2017 (Sweden)


10/13/2017 – Irvine, CA, Edwards Westpark 8
10/13/2017 – San Diego, CA, Media Arts Center
10/13/2017 – Santa Fe, NM, Violet Crown Cinema
10/14/2017 – Houston, TX, 14 Pews
11/17/2017 – Seattle, WA, Grand Illusion Cinema
12/9/2017 – San Francisco, CA, The Roxie


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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Grand Rapids Ballet Begins Search for a New Artistic Director

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By Michael Erickson

Grand Rapids, MI, August 15, 2017– Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB) announced today that they are formally beginning a search for a new artistic director for Michigan’s only professional ballet company. Current artistic director, Patricia Barker, announced in June that she accepted the artistic director appointment at Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB). Barker has been in this position with GRB since 2010, and will split her time between GRB and RNZB until the end of the 2017-18 season.

“We have already had a lot of Interest in this position,” said Glenn Del Vecchio, GRB Executive Director. “Patricia’s artistic vision and the success of the company have made GRB a highly respected ballet company. We will find an excellent candidate to continue the artistic excellence Patricia began and our patrons expect.”

A search committee has been formed within GRB that includes current board members, company dancers, and community leaders. Applications will be accepted through September 15, 2017. Interviews will begin in early October with a final decision being made by early December 2017.

A complete job description and details on how to apply can be found at grballet.com/ADsearch. No phone calls, please.

About Grand Rapids Ballet

Celebrating its 47th anniversary this season, Grand Rapids Ballet remains committed to lifting the human spirit through the art of dance under the current leadership of Patricia Barker as artistic director, Glenn Del Vecchio as executive director, and Attila Mosolygo as school director.

A proud recipient of the ArtServe Michigan Governor’s Arts Award for Outstanding Cultural Organization, Michigan’s only professional ballet company has a rich history marked by steady growth, a commitment to excellence, and strong community support. In addition, Grand Rapids Ballet School provides over 250 students with the highest quality dance instruction in a nurturing and encouraging environment and the opportunity to perform in productions by Grand Rapids Junior Company.

Keep up with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, and visit grballet.com today.

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