Sometimes interviews are just that — questions and answers. But in this instance, it was a conversation between friends and I was mostly a fly on the wall, watching, listening…and learning.
Beth Corning is nearing the end of her latest project for Corningworks’ The Glue Factory, where she designs choreography for dancers over 50. This one is called PARALLEL LIVES, a production highlighting the technology that works to keep us in touch with the world around us, but with a price — the divisive effect on interpersonal communication.
There are five players involved, including lighting designer Iain Court and projection designer Hsuan-Kuang Hsieh. The remaining three happened to be rehearsing in the upstairs studio at the New Hazlett Theater last week when I popped in. Rather, Corning was seated at a table with scenic designer Akiko Kotani (2013 Pittsburgh Center for the Arts Visual Artist of the Year). Behind them, occupying his own private space in a completely personal way (and sometimes throwing paper airplanes) Arthur Aviles was rehearsing — really. (Dance fans might remember the Bessie Award-winning artist from his memorable performances at the Pittsburgh Dance Council with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company. But he also co-founded the “funky and welcoming performance space” BAAD! — The Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, for which he received a New York City Mayor’s Arts Award.)
We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the production itself. So what follows is a compilation of conversational observations about art, the rehearsal process and each other.
We carry the world in our pockets.
We overlook those across the table
while simultaneously texting others across the globe
—- “reaching out” endlessly —- hoping for more.
Birth of an Idea. It all began when Corning and Kotani met at a Heinz Endowment event. As a result, Corning went to see Kotani’s Artist of the Year exhibition (2013) at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. “I got it!” she enthuses. “I got her!” She promptly (as always) sent an email. It turned out that Kotani, known worldwide as a fabric artist, was fascinated by the thought of participating in a theater production. “I always wanted to work with scrims,” she explains. That being said, Kotani even volunteered to find grant money for the project, much to Corning’s delight. Corning subsequently talked to Aviles, whom she has known “forever.” He was ready to retire at 50 (now 51), but Corning firmly (as always) suggested that he “retire next year.” Now Aviles is calling “PARALLEL LIVES” one of his final projects. “I’m like Cher, the Cher of modern dance,” he says with a captivating grin. “I’m coming back more fabulous than the last time.”
A Perfect Blend. They found themselves all on the same page, the same road, the same journey. Corning gives a hint of their perspective: “How simple can you get? How direct can you be?” They wanted the audience to “get a sense of real and not real, linear and not linear, fantasy and not fantasy.” Kotani observes, “We wanted to to go places we feel are important. We wanted to experiment. And Corning adds, like a cherry on top, “with quality.” That goes without saying, though, with these artists.
Age-ism. What about that “experienced” artist? “The physical limitations demand that I explore something else,” the 60-year old Corning asserts. “I can be freer. I can do the absurd.” This time the 70-year old Kotani adds the cherry on top, noting that “you start to give yourself permission.”
Details. Details. Details. When Corning worked with Tony Award-winning director Dominique Serrand in the time leading up to 2013‘s Remains, she learned that “everything is important.” And that just doesn’t mean props or encapsulating a dance phrase. For instance, the lighting designer doesn’t control projections — that job belongs to another person as Corning came to learn. So there came to be five performers and they all had to intersect. Kotani was in awe of Corning and Aviles, noting that “every single second was choreographed.”
All In. Kotani and Court have been uncommonly involved, often sitting for six hours at a time during rehearsals and taking copious notes. But when Corning and Aviles asked for her opinion, it still caught her by surprise. Aviles recalls that she responded, “Beth does it as a full person, where as I look like a dancer.” She was spot on, he says, because he was still assimilating the choreographic fabric. “I want to put it on like a coat and eat it, then put it inside me. Then it will come out if I give to the work what it needs.”
All For One. The mutual respect is evident. Kotani calls Aviles “a gentle man — funny, bright, kind, articulate.” Corning says Kotani is “sharp, precise” and, again, verbally articulate.” I see where we are going and it has been obvious from the start, even according to Aviles. “Corning is a spitfire,” he says. “She knows what she wants. From day one, she has still been consistent with the concept. ” Corning is right when she calls them a team. “We’re all working at the same speed.”
The Finish Line. There is a built in trust, an integrity,” says Corning. “I know what the end result will be.” And Aviles is willing to go along. “She taps right into me,” he acknowledges. Between the three of them, Kotani notes that there is a shared aesthetic, one that will develop shared shapes and shared space between.” Why not? It’s in their collective aesthetic DNA.