In July, Dance Alloy Theater's board of directors fired artistic and executive director Beth Corning. The decision shocked many: In its six years under Corning, the modern-dance troupe had experienced a seeming renaissance. It performed internationally and garnered renewed attention from local audiences and even national media with new and classic works by choreographers such as Jose Limón, Donald Byrd and Joe Goode, as well as original works by Corning herself. Asked about the firing, Susan Sparks, Dance Alloy's managing director, today says only that the board "was looking for a change in direction."
Now, with months of hushed legal wrangling and some soul-searching behind her, Corning talked with City Paper about the Alloy, her decision to stay in Pittsburgh, and the next step in her 35-year plus dance career.
What happened with you and the board?
Leaving the Alloy was not my choice. I am very proud of what I did there and surprised by what was accomplished in the six years I was there. I loved working with the artists that I worked with. It is what it is. ... Next!
What about the legal issues surrounding your dismissal?
That's all settled.
Are you satisfied with the outcome?
Legally I am bound not to go into it, but yeah, I think so. I would have preferred to have kept my job, but on the other hand I have a chance to do something new and wonderful. My 104-year-old great-aunt once told me, "When one door closes, another one opens." I remember thinking to myself after all this hit the fan that you also have to have the grace to go through it [the door].
Why are you staying in Pittsburgh?
I have had the amazing support of my family and colleagues, and the philanthropic community here has also been very kind to my choice to stay.
Before I took the Alloy job, I did these things called The Glue Factory Project [a performance series involving older dancers], and I loved them. Working with nationally and internationally renowned performers over the age of 40 is just amazing. I have put together an umbrella organization for projects like that and others I want to do called Corning Works.
What's the plan?
The New Hazlett Theater and I are co-presenting a Glue Factory Project production in March called A Seat at the Table. It is a full-evening work I am choreographing for myself and five brilliant dancers, including Michael Blake, who danced with the Limón Company, and Janet Lilly, who danced with Bill T. Jones.
What's it like working with dancers like that?
When you work with younger dancers, they learn the steps, then they sort of layer on the understanding of it, and then they meld those together, if you are lucky. People like Michael and the others, you teach it and it is all there. It's in their bones. Balanchine once said, "If you have good dancers, give them something simple; if you have mediocre dancers, give them something complicated." I like simple, and boy, can these dancers do simple.
I'm excited to bring this level of artistry to Pittsburgh. You know how puppies pee all over the floor when somebody comes home? I am the puppy wagging its tail and peeing on the floor.