For Beth Corning, the latter half of 2009 was a tumultuous time, during which she was let go as executive artistic director of Dance Alloy Theater. Now Corning is back with a new chapter in her 30-plus-year dance career and a brand new dance-theater production, A Seat at the Table.
It is the first effort of Corning's newly formed umbrella organization, Corning Works. The show, co-sponsored by the New Hazlett Theater, also resurrects Corning's The Glue Factory Project, which she made popular in Minneapolis before coming to Pittsburgh about seven years ago, to head the Alloy.
The Glue Factory Project brings together highly accomplished dancers over the age of 40 to present thought-provoking works.
For four performances March 25-28, Corning has assembled an all-star cast of old friends and colleagues from around the country to examine, through a series of vignettes, what it means to have a proverbial "seat at the table."
"If a seat at the table is what we all think we are aiming for consciously or subconsciously, what does it really get you in the end, and what do you give up to sit there?" says Corning, who choreographed the 65-minute intermission-less work.
Joining Corning are veteran performers Janet Lilly, former principal dancer with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company; Cathy Young, former principal dancer with Danny Buraczeski's JAZZDANCE!; Michael Blake, a former dancer with José Limón Company and Donald Byrd; Peter Sparling, former principal dancer with the Martha Graham Company; and award-winning lighting designer David Covey.
Set to music from Meredith Monk to Donna Summer, the mostly abstract work follows a group of characters who reflect and refract different views about what having a seat at the table means. Seats of power, competition between the sexes, feelings of entitlement and more are all explored.
As is also Corning's modus operandi, she says she packs the work with metaphor, irony and nuance, and plays with visual perspective via the use of varying-sized tables and chairs.
A Seat at the Table marks a return to the stage after an extended absence for at least one performer. Sparling, 58, is a professor at the University of Michigan who says he does most of his dancing nowadays for the camera, filming his dancing image for video works that are shown at dance festivals and on dance Web sites.
Creating A Seat at the Table also opened up a new way of creating dance for Corning. Instead of the dancers coming to her as a unit to work on choreography, she went to them individually in their home cities for a week each, to work one-on-one.
Because of the performers' experience and level of artistry, Corning felt she didn't have to make what she calls "slam bam thank you ma'am" physical movement for them when they can speak volumes in simple gesture and expression.
"I think part of what Beth is going for with The Glue Factory Project is to highlight the mature and contained power of the seasoned performer," says Sparling.
"I think mature performers are able to demonstrate more subtle virtuosity without trying to conquer the space with a lot of physicality," he continues. "The body becomes its own arena where one can dance within one's skin and draw the audience into them."
Corning Works: The Glue Factory Project performs A Seat at the Table
Thu., March 25-Sun., March 28 New Hazlett Theater, Allegheny Square East, North Side $20-30 (Sunday only is pay-what-you-can). 1-888-718-4253 or www.newhazletttheater.org
- Courtesy of Frank Walsh Photography
- Beth Corning and collaborators ask what it means to have A Seat at the Table.