With gender equality and LGBTQ rights perennial hot-button issues, CorningWorks dives headlong into the conversation with the world premiere of its latest Glue Factory Project production, Right of Way.
“As I get older I am thinking about how much the world has changed and how much it hasn’t,” says the dance-theater troupe’s founder/artistic director, Beth Corning. “I watch my teenage daughter’s friends think they don’t have to worry about equality and I keep thinking, ‘Yeah, you do.’”
Corning says that unconscious apathy plus the current political climate further fueled the creation of the hour-long, intermissionless work, onstage at the New Hazlett Theater for five performances March 30-April 3.
Choreographed by Corning and performed by her and local drag queen Jezebel Bebbington D’Opulence, Right of Way asks probing questions about how we as a society view femininity, gender, identity and acceptance. Who is it that gets to determine gender roles? And why, if they want to be treated with dignity in their own lives, do drag queens tend to portray women’s worst stereotypes?
Performed to a variety of live and recorded music along with spoken text, singing and lip-syncing, Right of Way is a series of vignettes, some humorous, some poignant. (The show contains partial nudity and adult language.) Corning says there will also be a beauty contest of sorts. Pushup bras, 4-inch stilettos, 6-foot rolling mirrors and Tina Turner (a favorite Jezebel character) are also involved.
Corning, who formerly ran Pittsburgh’s now-defunct Dance Alloy Theater, says she first met Jezebel years ago, at an Alloy fundraiser, and gave her a cameo in the 2008 Alloy work Feed Your Head Café. Upon conceiving Right of Way, she immediately thought of the vivacious performer and what her experiences could bring to the project.
Jezebel is middle-aged, Bronx-born and Puerto Rico-raised. She transitioned to female nearly a decade ago. “Life is an everyday struggle for people not going through a sexual transition, so you can imagine how hard it is for someone who is,” she says. “Everybody transitioning has a different experience, and while mine hasn’t been horrifying, it hasn’t been a bowl of cherries either.”
Jezebel says she is honored Corning chose her to perform in Right of Way and to be her muse of sorts. With no formal dance training, and used to what she calls “flash-dancing” her performances, Jezebel says that following choreography rather than improvising has been a challenge: “I am learning to tame my wild side.”
Corning feels that in life we are all performers in one way or another, and that we all put on costumes. With Right of Way, as with its prop mirrors, Corning wants to reflect back on us our thoughts on gender, identity and acceptance to help create understanding about ourselves and about humanity.