Tag Archives: New Hazlett Theater

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


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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.

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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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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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