On Stage: A Life Lived and Danced

June 5, 2013

BETH CORNING CARDSBeth Corning was running on empty. Over the past several years she had stared at one loss after another — her company (Dance Alloy Theater), her mother, her friends.

But what she could still control was her work. Not just the steps, though. “I wanted to grow at a cellular level,” she explains after a rehearsal for her upcoming premiere at the New Hazlett Theater.

But at that stage of the game, after over 30 years of choreographing in Sweden, New York, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh, where do you go? “I was taught that if you wanted to ski better, ski behind somebody better,” she quietly asserts.

For years she had admired Dominique Serrand, Tony Award-winning theater director of Theatre de la jeune Lune in Minneapolis and now, fortuitously, with The Moving Company there. Armed with a grant from the Heinz Foundation for choreographic process, she called up her old friend and said, “Want to play with me for a year?”

Beth recalls that she was sweating, but he didn’t hesitate. “She wanted to do it with someone she could trust,” says Dominique on the phone from Minneapolis.Then he asked what she had in mind.

BETH CORNING HEADSHOTA solo. She didn’t want to take care of anyone else — the salaries, the schedules, the egos. “I want to take care of myself,” she told him. “I just need to be filled back up.”

So they set up a performance date, like a carrot. It was as simple as that. But between the two there was a complete understanding that only if something was developing would they proceed. There was no obligation on anybody’s side.

Then they began. Would it be a dialogue from the start? Or so Beth thought. But what Dominique wanted was material from Beth’s own source of inspiration.

“I spent the first couple of months lying on the floor crying because I just didn’t know what to do or how to do it,” Beth reveals. Maybe she didn’t have to worry about anyone else, but she also didn’t have the companionship — the physical and social camaraderie that dancers tend to breed.

There was also no mirror, just four walls at the New Hazlett, which she had begun to consider her professional home. So she began to journal, writing her thoughts in a notebook. That helped.

It all began to spill out. But Beth started to offer too many competing ideas, a source of frustration for DOMINIQUE SERRANDDominique. The dialogue had begun.

Oddly enough that had taken the major part of their year together. They settled on biographical elements from Beth’s life, the Remains of her memories. What “remains” after loss? What “remains” after dinner? What “remains” after youth?

The work started to form only three months ago. Then it “really became exciting” according to Beth. She now calls Dominique her “mentor.” He calls himself a “dramaturg,” intent on developing the piece “in an honest fashion.”

Edit. Edit. Edit.

Dominique says that they “started with everything. But as you go, you get rid of unnecessary things and keep what is personal and exceptional. Make it stunning.”

They took all of her thoughts and memories and will present what is left of her memories, a personal journey, in Remains.

Now Beth can’t remember which sections have been “birthed” by whom.  “I don’t know who’s done what now. We seeded it. We sat on the egg. We hatched it together.”

Beth calls the “final” product dance theater, although Dominique firmly believes that “theater should be physical anyway.” “Already I feel sophisticated,” Beth says happily. “I feel filled up — more than I felt in years, in decades, maybe. I now get why the work he does is so good.”

He has discovered how “courageous” Beth is, noting that “after all, when you do a solo about you, you’re so exposed and I admire that.”

And they both have discovered that the Hazlett Remains will just be a next step. The journey will continue, because art, at its best, continues to breathe and to grow…

BETH CORNING SITTING


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