Corning Works' A Seat at the Table | Program Notes
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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Corning Works' A Seat at the Table

Posted By on Sat, Mar 27, 2010 at 1:50 PM

The debut of this intriguing new venture from former Dance Alloy Theater head Beth Corning, featuring Corning and five notable guest dancers, is structured around three processions. 

It opens with the first, Janet Lilly's slow, embellished walk across the length of a 25-foot-long table draped in black and placed, horizontally, far upstage from the New Hazlett audience.

Shortly, the other dancers emerge for a series of beguiling group scenarios. Some details are amusing -- everyone trucking about on foot-high wheeled stools -- while other gestures are poetically provocative. One that was used repeatedly involved a dancer reaching out imploringly with one hand (palm up) but with the other hand tucked behind his or her back, fingers wiggling connivingly.

There were also memorable solos, including one by former Martha Graham Dance Company principal dancer Peter Sparling, who clutched a briefcase to deconstruct macho corporate bluster, accompanied by a Kurt Weillesque version of the blues standard "Sittin' On Top of the World."

Second procession: The company moves slowly downstage, solemnly facing the audience. One of their number (dancer and educator Cathy Young) falls. The others look at her, then bless themselves, to knowing but slightly nervous chuckles from the audience.

More complex group work follows, like a tableau of simultaneous solos. There's also an amusing game of musical chairs (again, with very small chairs) in which all the joshing between dancers barely provides a veneer for the competitiveness. (It was all done to "Pop Goes the Weasel" as recorded in musical genres from chamber to heavy metal.) David Covey descends from the lighting booth for a funky little solo around the tiniest chair yet. Michael Blake (late of Jose Limón Dance Company and Donald Byrd/The Group) does a solo in a poufy pink gown.

All along, sections of the dance conclude with performers dumping costumes and other props in the metal trash can at stage left.

The tables are rearranged -- turned, if you will -- for the final procession, a Corning solo. It's a partial reprise of each of the first two, in which she walks along the surface of the long table, which now runs upstage to down. It culminates in a gut-wrenching solo sequence, the kind that was among the signatures of Corning's DAT work.

Seat is the first endeavor in Corning's reprise of her Glue Factory Project, an undertaking from her Minneapolis days in which she worked exclusively with dancers over 40 -- those who best understand, she believes, her style emphasizing expressive gesture and theatrical form over atheleticism and razzle-dazzle staging.

In Seat, that vision is wonderfully realized. For Pittsburghers, it's also impossible not to see in the show evidence of Corning dealing with her unhappy departure from DAT (whose board fired her last year, after her six critically and financially successful years at the group's helm).

While Seat (developed partly during Corning's visits to the other dancers' hometowns) was collaborative in nature, the imagery exploring the absurdities of competition, and the shedding of costume-skins, seemed to speak directly of Corning's experience, while remaining universal. So did the final stage imagery: the climactic splitting up of one big table into the three shorter ones it had actually been all along, each with its own adult-sized chairs.

A Seat at the Table is performed twice more, at 8 p.m. Sat., March 27, and 2 p.m. Sun., March 28. (The Sunday show is pay-what-you-can admission.) 1-888-718-4253 or www.newhazletttheater.org.

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