On Stage: Missing?

March 30, 2017


Beth Corning’s latest piece for The Glue Factory, What’s Missing?, was a puzzlement. Performed with noted choreographer and writer Donald Byrd, Missing (as the title indicates) asked more questions than it answered, leaving it up to the viewer to provide a personal solution.

Here Corning still seems to be basking in the dramatic shadows of her 2015 foray into the writings of playwright Samuel Beckett (Act Without Words II and ROCKABY ) and his absurdist world. She found a willing partner in Byrd, who it seems was living in a parallel universe.

Missing was filled with things that were not present. The set was minimal, relying on the New Hazlett Theater’s handsome barebones setting, a single, movable white bench and Iain Court’s lighting, where he once again proved that he can masterfully enhance a performance with subtle underpinnings of emotion and not overwhelm it.

Byrd provided the text, presumably culled from his former theatrical meditations on things like the Israel/Palestinian conflict and the Iraqi war. The textural phrases themselves were minimal and returned often, sometimes in variation. “You are right. You are wrong.” “Nothing will be resolved.”

“This piece is about nothing.” Shades of “Seinfeld?”

Then — “this piece is about everything.” No, Beckett.

Given Corning’s opinionated history, however, the two artists became a tasty combination, as she added her own humanistic touch. It all began with “I am flawed. My body isn’t perfect. The concept of the piece is flawed.”

Dressed all in black, perhaps in mourning, she sat on a bench and tried to link arms with Byrd, lean on him, connect, then move to the floor and spoon as if in bed. Dressed in neutrals (a figment of her imagination?), he was distant and then simply walked away.

Was there a death, or was he simply missing in life?

They performed the bench “ritual” multiple times for the audience, which was seated on three sides, and then with their backs to the people, a hard task for any artist. He learned common card tricks.

She performed a solo with the bench, trying to balance. He did “whirlygigs” and “waterfalls,” faster at her command, then returned to the stringent vocabulary in a speech to conclude it all.

There were many definitions of Missing to be seen and heard, some of which will only come to the surface in the hours and days after this confusing, yet compelling performance.

The contradictory words, written so long ago by Byrd, oddly presage the current political world in Washington, D.C., where the truth switches direction like quicksilver. Fears. Doubt. Rampant contradiction.

As Byrd put it, “A resolution exists only in my imagination.”

Missing continues through Apr. 2. See Listings.

Dance Beat: Patricia, Matt, Brazzies, Charrette, Attack

August 30, 2016
Patricia Wilde with Savion Glover

Patricia Wilde with Savion Glover

A Wilde Award. Former Pittsburgh artistic director Patricia Wilde added yet another award to her treasure chest. She was honored by the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga, New York, along with famed tap dancer Gregory Hines, whose award was accepted by tapper extraordinaire Savion Glover, who was mentored by Hines. She was surrounded by her family, including children Anya Davis and Yuri Bardyguine, plus a sizable contingent who worked with her at PBT, including Terrence Orr, Harris Ferris, Janet Campbell with David and Roberto Munoz.

Fresh Addition. He has popped up in performances with Attack Theatre ever since he and husband Rubén Garcia, head of the dance department at Point Park University, moved to Pittsburgh two or so years ago. Dance Europe Magazine selected him as one of the “Top 100 Dancers in World” for 2010/2011 and he is a former dancer with Lucinda Childs. But he gave Pittsburgh a sweet surprise this spring at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, simply titled Matt Pardo: An Evening of New Works. It was actually the culmination of a Master’s of Fine Arts Degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and showcased a subtle blend of jazz, which had a certain weight, and contemporary dance, which gave it a liquidity. That clarity and balance in Pardo’s choreography were easiest to see in Matt’s solo and another for Point Park dancer, the talented Justus Whitfield. There were two group dances for Point Park College dancers which further demonstrated a transparency in thought and execution to be found in Pardo’s style. Most exciting, though, was a trio he created with Childs dancers Caitlin Scranton and Sharon Milanese, beautifully interacting in various formations. It was a preview, though, because Pardo and  Scranton have designs on establishing a professional company in Pittsburgh.

BETH CORNING HEADSHOTThe Brazzies. The latest edition of the Brazzy Awards, named after former ballerina and inspirational teacher Leslie Anderson Braswell went to two veterans of the local dance scene. Congratulations to Beth Corning, who always offers deep, thoughtful performances for dancers over 50 (!), this time taking on avant-garde writer Samuel Beckett in Beckett and Beyond, and Christopher Budzynski, principal dancer with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, who has contributed so much to an array of leading roles, including Swan Lake,  Don Quixote and Le Corsaire.

Christopher Budzynski with wife Alexandra Kochis in "Cinderella."

Christopher Budzynski with wife Alexandra Kochis in “Cinderella.”

Fresh Choreography. This is the must-see project developed at PearlArts Studios. Take a choreographer, give him or her the opportunity to develop work and present it in a  atmosphere, complete with expert feedback (in this instance dance artists Mark Taylor — who seamlessly coordinates things — Michele de la Reza, Jasmine Hearn and visual artist Maritza Mosquera). Do yourself a favor and take in the soft glow of changing light at the Studios, complete with intelligent, nurturing conversation and support for the likes of Jean Paul Weaver, Ella Moriah Mason and Slowdanger duo Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight.

Real Attack. One of my favorite activities, rain or shine. No real dance, just connecting with real dancers (and friends) who proclaim “We’re On a Boat.” The Attackers had a real presence this year, with co-founders Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope, of course, the inimitable executive director Rebecca Himberger, Dane Toney, Ashley Williams, all at Lock Wall One Marina at 23rd Street in the Strip District



On Stage: Beth’s Families

March 27, 2015
Beth Corning and John Gresh. Photo: Frank Walsh.

Beth Corning and John Gresh. Photo: Frank Walsh.

We have been watching Beth Corning slowly reveal her own family history during her years in Pittsburgh, show by show, step by step. But she has constructed a special dance family around her personal family via the Glue Factory Project, designed specifically for dancers over 40.

In celebration of Glue’s fifth anniversary, she is putting five performers, all with a local/regional connection, inside at ONCE there was a HOUSE, her fourth iteration of the piece. This time Corning rebuilt the work with Attack Theatre’s Michele de la Reza, Squonk Opera’s Jackie Dempsey, veteran Pittsburgh actor John Gresh, former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Tamar Rachelle Tolentino and Yoav Kaddar, head of West Virginia University’s dance department and former dancer with Paul Taylor, Jose Limon and Pilobolus.

It’s also the perfect way to celebrate five years in a “huge economic crunch.” Corning will embrace a long stint in Sweden, “that really created my artistic voice and my aesthetics and made them concrete,” by bringing in two Swedish artists later this year.

Re-entering her House along with “grownups who actually knew Dick and Jane,” the educational reading series used from 1930 to 1970 in many schools, was inspired by Pittsburgh.

But this House, which will double its length to an hour, “has changed a lot and the characters are completely different,” she promises. And with multidisciplinary artists around her, “it’s been pretty grand.”

“We acknowledge we’re all pushing our limits on this one — we’re all out of our comfort zone,” Corning says. ” It’s an incredibly vulnerable show; it’s incredibly vulnerable when you really know what you’re dancing about.”

The work she does is deeply personal, deeply engrained in the body and soul. For example, she would “sit and talk and analyze this thing” with Gresh “and find ways into it — it’s so much fun! These are people who are smart, who are there, who are present beyond present.”

So de la Reza might turn into a rehearsal director, helping some of the others. And Dempsey, an accordionist in her professional life, “picks up dance movement faster than most dancers.” Gresh keeps laughing — “he calls himself a baby rhino in a bunch of gazelles.”

They’ve all had to adjust, though. The movement might have to switch legs because of a leg or hip problem because “it’s all part of the Glue Factory.” But according to Corning, there is so much other movement available that the richness of the dance still takes hold.

And that made the process so much more satisfying.

For example, she was enamored with Rachelle Tolentino from her very beginning in Pittsburgh. The ballerina led the company audition for Corning at the Alloy, whereupon she asked her to join the company. “You’re exactly what I’m looking for.” But the knee problem that had curtailed Rachelle Tolentino’s career prevented that.

But a couple of years ago, she coached Corning in her one-woman show, REMAINS. “I had an ‘aha’ moment,” recalls Corning, “as I watched her walk. Seasoned artists can simply walk and say as much as a young dancer does in fifty pirouettes.”

De la Reza hasn’t been coached in 20 years while co-founder of Attack, leading Corning to remark that de la Reza’s experience here is like learning Greek and then immediately performing a theater piece using it.

Corning and Kaddar traded rehearsal time between Morgantown and Pittsburgh, about 90 minutes. She notes, admiringly, that he was “alway on time.” As for Gresh, well, “He’s a honey. That guy’s the real deal — he’s not up there doing lines.”

And Dempsey, an accordionist, she didn’t know that she would “really” be dancing. In fact, she wrote a note to Corning saying, in part, “In two decades of performing, I’ve never been quite so terrified.” But if she “could choose any artist with whom to take this lead, it wold be Beth.”



On Stage: Beth and Arthur and Friends

October 3, 2014
Beth Corning and Arthur Avila Photo: Frank Walsh

Beth Corning and Arthur Avila Photo: Frank Walsh

Just when we think it’s the end of a dance career, it can trend to yet another beginning. Beth Corning believes that older dancers don’t fade away; they just access a more minimalist, inner dramatic thread that has been there all along. So she gave Pittsburgh dance fans another shot at seeing the charismatic Arthur Avila, who we lo-o-oved in his performances here with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, in her latest production, Parallel Lives. Check it out at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


September 10, 2014
Beth Corning and Arthur Aviles. Photo: Frank Walsh

Beth Corning and Arthur Aviles. Photo: Frank Walsh

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.

On Stage: Cooking Up Some Delicious Dance

January 27, 2014

Beth Corning

That was a great pleasure that we were able to plum the emotional and intellectual depths of three veteran dancer/artists — Francoise Fournier, Maria Cheng and, of course, our own Beth Corning in “Recipes Our Mothers Gave Us.” Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (And don’t you love her photos?)

Beth Corning

On Stage: Beth’s “Remains”

June 10, 2013

Corningworks Remains cakeBeth Corning watched her life unfold around her and for New Hazlett Theater audiences. Read about her fearlessness and the drama of it all in her latest piece, the solo work Remains in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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…


Dance Beat: Michele, Jacob’s Pillow, Kyle, Beth

January 12, 2013

ON THE ROAD. Attack Theatre’s Michele de la Reza has expanded her horizons. Last summer she attended Carolelinda Dickey’s bi-annual dance festival in Tanzmesse, Germany. There she met the Karen Cheung, artistic director of the Guangdong Modern Dance Festival, who invited her to China for a panel and where she was the only American artistic director. It was quite an adventure, walking though tiny streets to the three huge contemporary theaters in the city, finding cough drops in a country where no one speaks English, meeting Willi Tsao (the father of Chinese modern dance) and touching base with a range of Chinese contemporary dance, still in its infancy, but quickly playing catch-up. In between she served on the Fullbright Review Panel, perusing through 40 applications in dance, artistic research and performance at the United Nations in New York.

SUMMER DANCE. Okay, Jacob’s Pillow has released an almost complete (!) 2013 season and Pittsburgh will be represented not once but twice. In addition to his commission for New York City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan, Kyle Abraham’s company, Abraham.In.Motion, will conclude the season with his latest work, Pavement. (After it hits Pittsburgh, of course.) The season also includes O Vertigo and Martha Graham Company, among others. Click on Jacob’s Pillow for the full dance buffet.

kyle-abrahamAND MORE KYLE. When will it stop? Hopefully never. Kyle Abraham received one of 50 fellowships from United States Artists, a national grant-making and advocacy organization, which bestowed an unrestricted grant of $50,000 on each grantee. That is on top of another: as the 2012-2014 New York Live Arts Resident Commissioned Artist, Kyle will receive nearly $280,000 for the two-year residency and the commission of a new work or works for New York Live Arts. Then bring it on home, Kyle.


MAD DANCE. Rub elbows with the choreographic firebrand of Pittsburgh Beth Corningdance, Beth Corning at MAD MEX Shadyside Tues. Jan. 22, where you can build your own fajita, partake of the dessert table and have a 16 oz. margarita (or soft drink). The $40 donation goes to Beth’s latest project, a one-woman show called WHAT REMAINS, directed by Tony Award-winning director Dominique Serrand June 5-9. Click on Beth for more info.

On Stage: A Puppy of a Puppet Performance — Perhaps

September 12, 2012

Photo: Frank Walsh

Corning will readily admit that she is a control freak. So what could be more satisfying than manipulating puppets?

But things aren’t always that simple with Beth. In addition to controlling the movements of her own puppets in The Life & Death of Little Finn, she is producing, collaborating with the movement and performing in this production for The Glue Factory. It is still the first time Beth isn’t the central artistic figure in 7 such projects involving artists over 40 or 50. But then, who’s counting?

Actually, this is good friend Marina Harris’ “puppy,” according to Beth. Folks around here might remember Marina’s contributions to Beth’s tenure at Dance Alloy. There was choreography, costume design and, yes, puppets — most memorably the faceless, armless, legless large fabric doll that Michael Walsh brought to life in Once There Was a House.

In fact, this is “Marina on steroids.” Beth swears that the Nova Scotia artist outdoes her in details. “Everything here is made,” Beth says. The handmade prints are scanned onto the fabric. A pad of paper is not what it seems. Even a pencil.

Marina’s husband, Kip Harris, built the theater, the kind that you acclimate with medieval traveling puppet shows or Punch and Judy or maybe Mr. Rogers.

Except that this will be an adults-only show in a children’s-only setting, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh — after hours, of course.

It took Marina two years, working every day, to stitch together the story of Little Finn who was “born on angel wings (at least that’s what he was told.” His mother abandoned him at an early age because she was seduced by an unscrupulous lover.” So the story follows his life cycle — school, a job as a bean counter, disastrous dates with women, happiness with a Russian mail order bride…and the end to it all.

Marina, Beth and Melinda Harris toy with a cast including Little Finn (soft puppet), Sharky the Dog (hand puppet), two marionettes, three stick puppets and a whole host of disgruntled co-workers and children strung together. “It’s a huge cast and they’re terribly unruly,” Beth wrily notes.

Marina and Beth had met a long time ago at the Sundance Festival, sharing a love of puppetry and a sharp intelligence. The creative process involved exchanging videos for the far-flung human cast (Melinda danced with Utah Repertory Theater), then assembled at Marina and Kip’s home in Nova Scotia. Beth pauses to wax rhapsodic at the thought of “70 of the most gorgeous acres you’ve ever seen in your life.”

Melinda and Beth stayed in an 1840’s farm house with vista views that stretched down the hill and out to the water and islands beyond. They used to think, “Yay — dance camp!”

It resulted in an intimate production (about 30 audience members at each performance here) that is lovingly constructed and designed to tour.

Like most Glue Factory projects, it promises to surprise. Here Beth cautions that there won’t be a lot of structured dance. But it’s still a cohesive cast — the puppets are all glued together.

See Listings for ticket information. Wed. and Thurs. plus Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m. are sold out for the hour-long show. Still available: Fri. – Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 6 and 8 p.m.. For audiences 18 and older. Tickets: $30; $25 seniors and students, 8 p.m. Sunday is pay-what-you-can. http://www.showclix.com. 


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