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.