Six a Breast: The Absurd Life of Women

sabLuckily for us, Beth Corning’s moved to Pittsburgh in 2003 to serving as Artistic Director of Dance Alloy. In 2010, she launched (to critical acclaim) CORNINGWORKS as a vehicle for “seasoned” performers and artists over 40. Her Glue Factory Project was an outgrowth of that mission.

Her latest work, Six A Breast, is a brilliantly executed exploration of what she finds as “ridiculous” about being a woman. The performance is a series of very short scenes that chart expectations that shape a women’s experiences on her journey through life. Those expectations are driven by our societal & cultural norms and some are self-imposed. Upon reflection, many are ridiculous, some absurd. Corning says: “Six A Breast encapsulates the lunacy of all our lives, no matter the gender, but women . . . they got the “mother lode” backward and in heels.”

Corning uses a style familiar to those of us of a certain age, that of the quick “Laugh In” vignette, we grew up watching. Early MTV, Sesame Street and today’s” viral” videos share that short attention span style. In Six A Breast it is not so much choppy quick cuts but a flow or a progression through the chronologic milestones of a woman’s life. The scenes are illusions, not in your face representations, of sex, childbirth, manners, behaviors and the conundrums that women face.

The stories are told mostly in dance by three female characters, performed by Beth Corning, Sally Rousse, and Laurie Van Wieren. Each is unique in appearance, mood, and behavior, but all will remind you of someone in your life.

The last scene, with the three ladies all seated together on a bench, deliver Samuel Beckett’s one-hundred- twenty-seven word most perfect play, Come and Go, in near darkness.sab2
Corning and Costume Designer Lindsey Peck Scherloum clad the women in white, in the style of “the uniform of the day” appropriate to each vignette. This with the exception of the last scene, which is “in living color”.

The production design is a stark black stage with minimal props helping to create the illusion. Iain Court’s pure white lighting design bathes and sculpts the women with nuanced yet dramatic subtlety.

Corning and Recording Engineer Greg Reierson have created a developed a perfectly matched score so tightly integrated that it’s hard to imagine which idea came first; the story, the choreography or the music.

Let us not forget this is a Dance Theatre piece, and choreography is front and center in the journey. There are snippets and longer form styles and genres of dance, each again perfectly applied to that phase of life’s journey.

You will laugh, cry, gasp and applaud these women as the present the absurd life of women. At the end of the opening nights performance, following the bows, the audience didn’t want to leave, sitting quietly and reflecting on what they had just seen.

Mothers, take your daughters to see Six A Breast. Women, if your partner is one of those unfortunate creatures, a man, take him with you. Regardless of who you go with, and do go with someone, this show will spark interesting conversations on the way home.

Remaining performances are September 7th to 10th at the New Hazlett Theatre on Pittsburgh’s North Side as follows:

Thursday at 8 pm includes the 7:15 pm pre-performance Bare Arms series How to Say “No”: with Joy with Christiane Dolores

Friday at 8 pm with the 7:15 pm pre-performance Bare Arms series No, You Take Out the Garbage; the art of negotiation & delegation with Jen Saffron and post-performance informal cast talk-­‐back

Saturday at 8 pm includes the 7:15 pm pre-performance Bare Arms series On Beauty, the Good, Bad, Ugly guest Artist TBA

Sunday 2 pm with “pay-what-you-can admission” available only at the door, regular reserved tickets are available online.

For tickets visit

Thanks to Corningworks for complimentary press tickets.

What’s Missing?

unknownWhat’s Missing is a show premised on imperfection, incompletion, dissatisfaction. The disembodied, mellifluous voice we hear as the two somber dancers begin their very calculated, yet very impassioned, tactile choreography. Over and over again, the disembodied voice urges that nothing will be gained from this show—you will receive no great knowledge, no imbalance will be perfected, nothing will feel complete. The same disorder you approached the show from will be no easier to grapple with upon leaving. In fact, it may be worse to deal with, compounded by your frustration at the show’s conclusion or the strictly choreographed chaos that transpires within the show.  What’s Missing both taunts and tantalizes the viewer with the prospect of the unresolved, the unannounced, the indescribable, and the just out of reach.

Before the show actually begins, the audience is involved in a sort of Q&A, participatory round circle. Guided by Beth Corning—the infinitely talented and established choreographer, dancer, and artistic director of the Corningworks Company—the audience views a series of images projected before them, the most striking of a girl in what appears to be a ravished household. The images are stark and disconcerting, perhaps because of their starkness. The audience is asked to not only remark upon them, but close their eyes, and listen to a fellow audience member describe a given picture so they might envision it without seeing it. This exercise seemed odd, until the radical sensorial juxtaposition that occurred with the transition from the picture-based Q&A to the choreographed performance. Nearly somnambulant in quality, the opening “scene” begins with Corning and her fellow dancer and co-creator of the show, Donald Byrd, dancing and rhythmically syncopating their motions on what appears to be a park-bench. Given their physical reactions and expressions, they seem to be in some dream, some beautiful physical recitation of a repressed memory or repressed interaction or relationship. There is a push-and-pull, with one of them ending up at a disadvantage, always craven, with rapturously evocative, subtle choreography and legerdemains, for intimacy and

Nearly somnambulant in quality, the opening “scene” begins with Corning and her fellow dancer and co-creator of the show, Donald Byrd, dancing and rhythmically syncopating their motions on what appears to be a park-bench. Given their physical reactions and expressions, they seem to be in some dream, some beautiful physical recitation of a repressed memory or repressed interaction or relationship. There is a push-and-pull, with one of them ending up at a disadvantage, always craven, with rapturously evocative, subtle choreography and legerdemains, for intimacy and acknowledgment from the other. This is the show’s strength, and this interlude will serve as the punctuation for the piece. It is repeated at various intervals and caesuras throughout the show, at four different corners of the stage, giving different audience members different vantage points. The utilization and manipulation of space and dimensionality in correlation with emotionality through physical movement is perhaps what makes What’s Missing so illuminatingly transcendent.

The show’s narrative, or non-narrative, as it were, is equally compelling. “Told” in various “acts,” the show investigates through movement and performance, various types of physical and cognitive fragmentation and dissolution. Throughout the show, both Corning and Byrd oscillate in terms of who is in control, in a certain sense, and through this odd equilibrium of power in each vignette, the audience establishes and understands a sort of psychological and physiological interdependency and linking that gives the show a curious, ethereal quality. The pinnacle of this was Donald Byrd’s mini-performance in which he acted out the demands barked out by Corning. The result was something oddly biological—as if the audience was becoming intertwined with not only the deconstructed neurological processes that lead to bodily movement, but also the emotions and memories that are attached to certain bodily movements or dances or physical reactions. This type of nuanced deconstruction is what gives What’s Missing a fascinating edge over other choreographed pieces. There is a distinct yet delicate balance between emotions, memory, physicality, purposefulness and futility that produces a series of choreographed vignettes that render the audience blissfully restless.

And restlessness is the desired result for the show. As the narrators (at times Corning, at times Byrd) dulcetly and hauntingly remind the audience from offstage, there can be no resolution, particularly from an audience ravenously seeking out solution.  What’s Missing, through exquisite and achingly human choreography and bodily narrative, articulates the disappointment and struggle to possess space, one’s bodily autonomy, and the attention of another individual. It is the most gratifying futility.

Special thanks to Corningworks for complimentary press tickets.

This review was based on the March 29, 2017 performance. For more information about Corningworks, click here. 

Remains — A One Woman Show

1470701694It’s especially moving to revisit this particular geography—a place once so painful, and so overwhelming, and to so tangibly get to recognize the distance one travels in life, especially in what is relatively a short period of time.

–Beth Corning

This is immensely personal, a performative elegy illustrating the dance of loss and memory.  Dance as not merely the singular expression of joy or anger or spiritual freedom or sadness exorcised, but a madness which comprehensively envelops all these experiences into tight little moments allowing the fret and control of micro-expression to dominate moments within her movement.  Beth Corning’s ability to assume singular positions, to assume pointed looks with jerks of scared confrontational eye contact to the audience; and her ability to create emotional nuance by herself, and silently, shows a tremendous focus on the potential of bodily expression.

Think of the immense power of a candid photograph.  There’s an illustration of the true person when a subject is not posing.  Her dance is illustrated by a projection that supplements her dance performance.  The phrase: My Father; words projected on the only set piece (a wall of cardboard boxes).  She then walks what is presumably her father’s shoes across the stage with her hands.  I found small messages left everywhere, says the projection, as she lifts the coat, another relic of a no-longer person.

What’s revealed in the program notes is that Corning is working through the impact of the recent deaths of loved ones.  The focus of her performance concentrates on a seeming room, austere and flexible.  She finds so much place within capturing parts of the memories that were left in what is suggested to be a house filled with the dead.  Her embrace as a dancer is remembering, and then, even in mirth there’s a sadness to understanding that the good times are gone.  The times are gone.  But the place is still present.  Memory haunts the place, then.

Corning’s talent as an expressionist is captivating.  She makes a puppet of the coat, that is to say she turns a coat into a man, a flag, a dance partner, and a bundle of misbegotten anecdote. She becomes the coat, because the object is as much of an identity as the person.  She also brilliantly becomes a new character with the coat.  She is an adult engineering the child who was cognizant to recall details about how someone laughed, walked, danced, argued.  Then she becomes the person, but only for a moment.

Her style of dance is classically rooted,  as she twirls and bounds towards very specific placement on the stage in order to realize the place of where a loved one might have stood, might have scratched themselves or yawned.  Seemingly insignificant moments that become the “hmmph” of recall when that’s all that’s left.  It’s funny to have seen this show at the New Hazlett where only a few months ago, Krapp’s Last Tape was performed.  That story, another one-man show, that delves into the recall of a forgotten era and the pointed triviality of memory.  The space does lend itself towards lonely exploration.  It’s appropriate that part of Corning’s release is for the projection to quote Beckett in her goodbye:

Oh, I know I too shall cease and be as when I was not yet, only all over instead of in store.

Because how does one choose to say goodbye when there is no choice?  It’s summed up in the ho-hum of the topical name of Beckett’s poem, “Oh, I know…”

Or perhaps, more succinctly:  We refine.  We redefine.  We remain.  –Beth Corning

Special thanks to CORNINGWORKS for complimentary press tickets. Remains runs at the New Hazlett Theatre through Sunday September 11th. For tickets and more information, click here

Dancing into Fall 2016

As the wind and the leaves begin to carry us into Fall, the Pittsburgh dance world is leaping into this season with some truly intriguing and exciting work! To give everyone a little taste of what’s coming up, Pittsburgh in the Round spoke to a couple of local companies, CORNING WORKS, and Attack Theatre.

Beth Corning, Artistic Director of CORNING WORKS, and former Artistic 1470701694Director of Pittsburgh’s Dance Alloy, was kind enough to open up with me about her upcoming performance. “Remains- a one woman show,” is a repertoire performance of a piece that Corning informed me she had begun the process of creation with years ago. The piece will be a juxtaposition of movement, imaginative theater, and spoken word exploring not only what our present lives mean, but also what the remnants of past chapters, or people, in our life can teach us. “Remains- a one woman show” embraces many forms of art, which Corning says she “does very carefully.” Motivated by a thirst for more to chew on, “any medium that can help her explore,” she says is of interest to her.

In talking with Corning, she so eloquently shared with me a large part of where she was coming from in terms of her overall message…“Be aware of the weight that you’re leaving behind… even if it’s just pieces of soap left in the bathroom. Or, like, that one sock… when the other sock just isn’t there anymore.” Corning is concerned with putting an emphasis on life and what certain parts of our lives weigh. How do we process what has past? With the help of a friend of hers, a theater director who aided her in cultivating an original and personal exploration of life’s weights, Corning originally created the piece in response to the death of her Mother a number of years ago, who was a huge, beloved, and special part of her life and her work. “It was a tumultuous year.” she says “Putting it out was really raw stuff.” In revisiting the piece a number of years later, Corning says she has “seen tangibly how I’ve come along emotionally.” She says that in the revisiting of “Remains,” she has been able to work on the piece from a different perspective and that the show really offers something for everyone to take from it. In combining the seriousness’ of life’s struggles with a sense of humor and a drive for expression, Corning has in store for us what I see to be a wealth of wisdom. See “Remains- a one woman show” September 7th-11th at the New Hazlett Theater in the Northside! For tickets and more information, click here. Season22-WebReady copy_0Also coming up this season, Attack Theatre will be performing an original piece, Some Assembly Required. Based off of the architectural works of José Oubrerie, Artistic Directors Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope, have created a piece drawing lines between visual art and movement. Offering the audience an atmosphere in which they can observe and interact with the creative process will give viewers a new way in which to view visual art, live dance, and music. The piece was inspired shortly after Attack decided to seek a collaboration with the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, which is where it will be performed. “It is a beautiful gallery showcasing innovative work.  The beauty of Some Assembly Required is that it connects with visual art of any medium. Architect, José Oubrerie, was being showcased during the dates we suggested, and this created an opportunity to explore this process with architecture as a medium. The language of architecture is rich with concepts about form and structure that I know will inspire the creation of movement and choreography for this performance,” Artistic Director, Michele de la Reza told me when I asked her how the project came about.

Based off of visual art, the company will create interactive, guided discussions, which the performers will use as inspiration for improvisational dance and music. In creating a flow of art and interaction, Attack is finding new ways to open up our perspectives surrounding expression and perceived boundaries. “This piece is not necessarily about portraying architecture through dance, but rather interpreting the audience experience with the art in this space,” says de la Reza. “The greater the audience participation, the more options we have to explore through music and movement!,” she added. The goal of this show is to engage the audience and the artists in a new creative process. This piece, like “Remains- a one woman show” is a revisiting of a past show. De la Reza informed me that Attack has performed this in many locations, however since it is so interactive and dependent on surroundings, the performance is different every time! “With any performance, we consider the creativity and influence of previous works, but because Some Assembly Required depends largely on the moment, the art and the audience; it becomes a new and exciting performance each time.” Don’t miss this exciting chance to twist your perspective and open up your mind with Attack Theatre on October 7th-9th at the Miller Gallery at CMU! For tickets and more information about Some Assembly Required, click here.

In this upcoming season both of these companies are bringing to life and movement the ideas that aren’t too simple to work through on your own. Come out and let these wonderful artists assist you in expanding your mind!

Check out the rest of our 2016 Fall Preview here! Follow along with our autumn adventures with the hashtag #FallwithPITR on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!