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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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‘Multiplicity’ Program brings together all of Bodiography’s Sister Companies


Christen Weimer’s “Mother’s Little Helper”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet – Multiplicity
Byham Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
November 17, 2018

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

After a 3-year hiatus Bodiography Contemporary Ballet’s longest running dance series Multiplicity returned to Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater on November 17 with its usual cavalcade of repertory works by current and former company members. What made this iteration of Multiplicity different from prior programs was that the works were for the first time performed by all three of the organization’s sister troupes: Bodiography Contemporary Ballet, BCB Charlotte and BCB3.

The program kicked off with Amanda Fisher’s re-envisioned “Pizzicato” (2018), a 7-minute work danced to upbeat music by The Piano Guys featuring eight of Bodiography Contemporary Ballet’s dancers in crimson dresses. A reaction to the mood of the music, Fisher’s choreography, while resembling stylized ballet classroom exercises, was slightly seductive and aesthetically pleasing.  Highlighting the piece, and Multiplicity overall, was standout dancer Nicole Jamison who has fast become a star for the company.


Amanda Fisher’s “Pizzicato”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Maria Caruso’s “Valley of Her”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Next, BCB3, a troupe of retired Bodiography dancers performed artistic director Maria Caruso’s latest effort “Valley of Her”. The 13 ½ minute piece in four sections was danced to music by Pittsburgh indie folk band Ryan Hoffman and the Pioneers that began with a brief solo sung by dancer Michaelina McGee before she joined her fellow BCB3 performers. Caruso’s choreography for the all-female cast of eight appeared measured and focused predominantly on shape and line. The women partnered each other in lifts and sculptural poses. Although choreographically simplistic looking, the work, thanks in large part to the band’s music, had a certain allure to it.

After choreographer Christen Weimer’s body image-themed “Mother’s Little Helper” (2018) for Bodiography Contemporary Ballet’s dancers, company trainees Josef Hartman and Renee Simeone shone  in a reprise of Andrea Levick’s powerful duet “Retorque” (2018). An emerging talent, Levick showed a level of maturity as a choreographer in her movement choices for the duet performed to music by Glass Animals. That was especially evident in sections of the work where the dancers engaged in expressive solo riffs and partnered dancing that mixed hip hop and contemporary dance styles.



Andrea Levick’s “Retorque”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

The program’s first half concluded with perhaps the best work of the evening, Caruso’s “Journey” (2008). Set to music by Philip Glass, the seasoned trio of Amanda Fisher, Melissa Tyler and Jamison were lovely in Caruso’s sharp and musical contemporary ballet choreography. The ballet was Caruso at her creative best.

The program’s second half opened with an homage to the struggles of young mothers, Caruso’s “Really?!” for BCB Charlotte dancers (plus Jamison). Set to music by Kansas City’s Quixotic, the 7-minute piece was a bit “Fosse” meets “frustrated mom” pantomime that offered little to be engaged with.

Maria Caruso’s “Really?!”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Next, Jamison took on the role of choreographer for her fellow Bodiography Contemporary Ballet dancers. Her piece “Curdle” (2018), danced to music by Ezio Bosso, Nils Frahm, and Yann Tiersen , portrayed “the dissolution of an ideal.” Lively and gestural with the dancers engaging in arm movements that landed behind their heads and them tapping their fingers on the stage floor, the work proved interesting in parts.

A vehicle for BCB Charlotte’s quartet of dancers to don sultry and sexy demeanors, Caruso’s “Runaway Runway” (2018) cast the group as runway models in a cat walk driven jaunt. Given BCB Charlotte dancers’ mature, engaging stage presence as skilled performers, it would have been great to see the group in a dance work with some real substance and meaty choreography. Both “Really?!” and “Runaway Runway” fell short in doing that.

Maria Caruso’s “Runaway Runway”. Photo by Eric Rosé.
Maria Caruso’s “Submerged”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Rounding out the program were Kristie Corso’s “Cliff’s Edge” (2018) for the main company about how life’s stresses and setbacks can adversely affect relationships with those we most care about, and a reprise Caruso’s “Submerged” (2018), a ballet inspired by 2018 Academy Award Best Picture-winner The Shape of Water, that had Bodiography’s dancers swimming through a mesmerizing succession of dance phrases that together were a solid closer to an up and down program.

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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Bodiography’s Season-Ending Program to Highlight Touring Works


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Bodiography dancers in Maria Caruso’s “Doors and Windows”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

By Steve Sucato

Don’t talk to Maria Caruso about slowing down. The 37-year-old founder/artistic director of Pittsburgh’s Bodiography Contemporary Ballet who has had more retirements and comebacks as a performer than NFL quarterback Brett Favre is a self-described workaholic. In addition to overseeing BCB and sister performance companies BCB3, a troupe of veteran former BCB company members and BCB Charlotte, a North Carolina branch company, Caruso also heads Bodiography’s Center for Movement and its dance education and fitness and wellness programs as well as chairs the Performing Arts Department at La Roche College. For Caruso “busy” is her resting state. So it should come as no surprise that despite recent health issues she would take on even more.  Later this year and next Caruso will embark on a 2.5 million dollar expansion of Bodiography’s Center for Movement facility in Squirrel Hill, adding new studios and a convertible black box performance space to the historic building that once housed Hollywood legend Gene Kelly’s first dance studio.

Also in 2019, BCB will head to Europe for a weeklong tour with performances in London and Manchester, England, Berlin and Paris. That tour will feature Caruso’s “Doors and Windows” (2018), a ballet she calls the finest she has choreographed for the 17-year-old company.  A reprise of that work plus a world premiere from Caruso and three Pittsburgh premieres of works created for BCB’s annual Southern Tours will make up the company’s 2017-18 season-ending program Highlights, this Saturday, May 12 at Downtown’s Byham Theater.

Kicking off the all-Caruso choreographed program will be “Break the Verse” (2018). The 8–minute work for 11-dancers to a score by Pittsburgh composer Austin Beckman of experimental band Walrus Tales, is a reaction to the music says Caruso. “The music is a journey through a soundscape of intense pulsating rhythms and soft, poetic classical string music,” says Caruso.  “The dancers begin the work as this organically moving pod and then progress through some really powerful duets.”

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Bodiography dancers in Maria Caruso’s “Doors and Windows”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

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Bodiography dancers in Maria Caruso’s “Doors and Windows”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

2017’s “Walkways” was more of “an experiment” says Caruso.  For the 6-miunte work for 7-dancers set to music by Swiss-born electronic musician Massivan (a.k.a. Ivan Pezzini), Caruso says she “wanted to do a piece with really strong pointe work and athleticism that was completely outside the box crossing boundaries between classical ballet and contemporary forms.”

Originally inspired by and created on the 5 women of BCB Charlotte, the aptly titled “Really?!” (2018) taps into their frustrations as young working mothers navigating adulthood. The 7-minute work with music by Kansas City’s Quixotic has been adapted for 8 of BCB’s female dancers in Pittsburgh.

Inspired by a scene from 2018 Academy Award Best Picture-winner The Shape of Water, the world premiere of Caruso’s “Submerged” with music composer Olafur Arnalds and Quixotic by looks to impart a feeling of being submerged says Caruso. The 16-minute for 12-dancers including Caruso will present a serene world in which the dancers appear to float and fall at peace with their surroundings.

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Bodiography dancers in Maria Caruso’s “Doors and Windows”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Rounding out the program will be the aforementioned “Doors and Windows” (2018). Performed to music by The 1975, Ludovico Einaudi, Kevin Keller, and Sigur Ros, the 36-minute ballet says Caruso is “the story of Bodiography told through the eyes of a Bodiography artist.” With narration by Amanda Fisher the cast of 7-dancers including Caruso, encapsulates and chronicle’s Bodiography’s evolution.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet performs Highlights, 8 p.m., Saturday, May 12, Byham Theater – 101 6th St.; $25; (412) 456-6666 or trustarts.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.

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