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CorningWorks' Recipes Our Mothers Gave Us Works a cooking metaphor for life

"You either follow it to a T or you improvise some of the steps."

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While life doesn't come with an instruction manual, the wisdom of those who have come before us is supposed to offer guidance. But what if some of that wisdom — those recipes for happiness, success and fulfillment — turn out to be nothing more than clichés passed from generation to generation?

In CorningWorks' latest Glue Factory Project, Recipes Our Mothers Gave Us, three veteran dancers with diverse cultural backgrounds question some of the common recipes for a better life they were taught as youths.

The hour-long Recipes Our Mothers Gave Us was created by and will be performed by dancer, choreographer and CorningWorks artistic director Beth Corning, actor/dancer Francoise Fournier and playwright, actor and choreographer Maria Cheng. The show has five performances, Jan. 15-19, at the New Hazlett Theater.

Recipes is the fifth annual incarnation in Pittsburgh of CorningWorks' Glue Factory Project, which brings together nationally and internationally recognized performing artists over the age of 40 to create substantive dance-theater works. As in past Glue Factory shows, Corning chooses the subject matter and the artists who will participate, usually from among the many artists she has worked with in the past.

Corning, formerly artistic director of Pittsburgh's Dance Alloy Theater, met Fournier years ago, while teaching in Sweden. Fournier has worked with such noted Scandinavian choreographers as Birgitta Egerbladh and Per Jonsson. Cheng is co-founder of Denver's Theatre Esprit Asia; Corning knew her from the University of Minnesota's dance department, when Corning had a dance company in Minneapolis. (Cheng replaced the project's original third collaborator, dancer/choreographer Nora Chipaumire, who left the project due to scheduling conflict.)

In previous Glue Factory Projects, Corning traveled to work with her fellow collaborators in their home cities. This time, both Cheng and Fournier (who lives in Stockholm and had not previously been to the United States) traveled to Pittsburgh this past year to work with Corning.    

Set to an original soundscape by composer Mary Ellen Childs, Recipes Our Mothers Gave Us explores common societal stories relating to succeeding in life via a series of vignettes played out in solos, duets and trios. To illustrate the vignettes, says Corning, Recipes uses metaphor, text and an array of props such as rolling cooking trolleys, 36-gallon pots and various kitchen utensils.

Corning, who directs the show, says she believes that life is indeed like a recipe.

"We all start the recipe with excitement and expectation, and depending on what kind of person you are, you either follow it to a T or you improvise some of the steps," says Corning. "Either the recipe comes out or you fail, and that can change every time you try that recipe."

One recipe the work explores is the one women use to attract a mate.

"Men wear socks, underwear, a suit and tie and are girded against the world," says Corning. "Women are laid bare wearing push-up bras, low-cut dresses, makeup and high heels. Why were we the ones that had to get naked to attract a mate? Why do we keep doing that recipe when we can do everything without men now?"

Corning says that in the creation of this work, she carried with her lessons learned from working with Tony Award-winning theater director Dominque Serrand, and which were employed in her most recent CorningWorks production, last June's critically acclaimed one-woman show Remains.

"As a choreographer, we are always seduced by beautiful movement," says Corning. "Mining the movement to make sure I was not getting seduced by it, and stripping away any artifice, was what I was aiming for."

Corning also enlisted the help of playwright Shelley Berc to look over the material. The idea, says Corning, was to make sure "that the recipes were making a cohesive cookbook."

Audiences will even get to see what else the trio has cooked up from different perspectives, as Recipes will be performed with patrons seated on three sides of the stage.

In keeping with cooking metaphor, each performance will be followed by a complimentary tasting event hosted by local guest chefs including: Jamilka Borges and Sarah Thomas, of Bar Marco; Michael Chen, of Tamari Restaurants; and David Russo, of the International Culinary School.

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