Sunday, September 14, 2014
The latest from choreographer and performer Beth Corning is an artful bit of social commentary that exploits both some beautifully conceived staging and the talents of dancer Arthur Aviles.
Corning calls Parallel Lives "two 55-minute solos," and that's thematically appropriate: The show's about how our obsession with social media actually lessens our ability to connect to one another. So while Aviles and Corning technically share the stage the whole time, they are truly "together" for maybe 10 minutes of the hour, and that's an amusingly (if tellingly) awkward interlude.
Parallel Lives isn't heavy-handed, though; in fact, it often delves as far into full-bodied comedy as I've seen Corning get. (This is CorningWorks' fourth season; her previous gig was running Pittsburgh's now-defunct Dance Alloy Theatre.)
Corning and Aviles spoof the habits of reflexive social-mediators, taking selfies with their lunches and flitting from one barely noticed task to the next. But it's in the way of holding a mirror to our habits, and if it's a funny picture, it's not really a happy one.
Meanwhile, though I've seen dozens of shows at the New Hazlett Theater, I can't recall one with a more inventive stage setting. The show opens with two tall mesh screens running the width of the stage, one downstage and one at midstage, both of them surfaces for lovely projected line animations. (Thank, in part, projection designer Hsuan-Kuang Hsieh and artist Akiko Kotani, plus the tech crew.) The screen closest to the audience is drawn aside early to reveal a living-room set for Aviles' character, while Corning's fellow lonely apartment-dweller is seen behind the second screen.
It's a breathtakingly simple and effective way to suggest the "parallel lives" idea, and it looks great. (All the more remarkably, Corning says it's the first time in her four-decade career that she's used projections in a work she's choreographed.)
The whole show is rewarding, but perhaps best of all — partly because he's all but new to Pittsburgh audiences — is Aviles.
The New York-based dancer has performed in Pittsburgh before, but it was during his time with the famed Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, which ended in 1995. Now age 51 — and hence qualified for Corning's puckishly named Glue Factory, for dance artists over 40 — he's a compact fellow who moves beautifully, with enough athleticism to leap a sofa and do a forward handstand-flip. And he even does some quite credible a capella singing, in Spanish.
It's all in service of the show, though. And both Corning and Aviles are gesturally eloquent, communicating the pain and disquiet of otherwise inarticulate humans.
Today's the final performance of Parallel Lives, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25-30, though if you pay at the door today is pay-what-you-can day.