CorningWorks’ latest uses humor to explore the expectations placed on women | Dance | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

CorningWorks’ latest uses humor to explore the expectations placed on women

“There are more costume changes in this than the Folies Bergère.”

Left to right: Beth Corning, Laurie Van Wieren and Sally Rousse in CorningWorks’ six a breast
Left to right: Beth Corning, Laurie Van Wieren and Sally Rousse in CorningWorks’ six a breast

As countless dance works over the years have noted, our culture treats women and men unequally. But you can expect humor as well as poignancy from one new dance-theater work on the subject, CorningWorks’ six a breast. The 12th annual Pittsburgh Glue Factory Project production (for dancers 45 and over) finds dancer/choreographer Beth Corning and guest performers Sally Rousse and Laurie Van Wieren weighing in Sept. 6-10, with five performances at the New Hazlett Theater.

“The lives we are all assigned by society are so absurd on so many levels, no matter what the gender, but women got the mother lode,” says Corning, speaking by phone recently from Minneapolis, where the trio of old friends was rehearsing.

Corning herself has explored this theme before to different degrees, in works including 2010’s A Seat at the Table and 2014’s Recipes Our Mothers Gave Us. With six a breast, Corning goes all-in on the absurdity of social manners and mannerisms when it comes to women. And while the work focuses on the absurd lives of women, Corning says it is also “not anti-male in any shape or form.”

The queen of metaphor, Corning never lectures audiences or beats them over the head with the obvious. Instead, she weaves a tapestry of possible moments of self-discovery for viewers within the emotional content and subject matter of her works.

For six a breast, Corning says, she challenged herself as a choreographer by taking a very different approach to the structure and delivery, adopting a format that plays off the popular 1960s television comedy show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In’s rapid-fire series of gags and sketches. To do so, Corning says, she needed to distill her ideas to their very essence. Ideas she would normally have developed into longer vignettes now come at the viewer, á la Laugh-In, in short, rapid-fire, non sequiturs. 

“This, albeit a lot of tongue and cheek, is still born out of my concerns of where we [women] are as a gender and a society,” says Corning. 

The hour-long, intermission-less work is set to a range of music from Eddie Cantor and Bach to circus tunes. It offers observations on the experiences (some of them generational) of many women in feeling like they walk on eggshells, that their lives are spinning in circles, and that they are constantly caught up consumerist dictates about how they are supposed to look, plus a whole lot more. 

“Yes, it is funny but there is also beautiful dancing in it,” says Van Wieren. 

An award-winning Minneapolis-based dancer/choreographer, Van Wieren says she adopts a number of personas in six a breast, including a woman distracted by self-conscious thoughts and one who has difficulty with domestic chores. Rousse, a former ballerina and co-founder of Minneapolis-based James Sewell Ballet, inhabits other personas, such as a neurotic woman, a seductress, and one who constantly apologizes. 

Both veteran dancers say working on six a breast has been a rewarding and challenging experience. “Beth is very particular about what she wants,” says Van Wieren. “That’s a great thing in doing someone else’s work.” For Rousse, the initial challenge became understanding how to contribute to the process. “I’m a chronic collaborator,” she says. “Even when I am making my own work, I crowd-source solutions [to choreographic problems].”  

Unlike many past Glue Factory Project works, six a breast employs minimal sets and props. However, “There are more costume changes in this than the Folies Bergère,” says Corning. She also says company lighting designer Iain Court will have his work cut out for him.

Adding further texture and nuance will be the inclusion in the production of “Come and Go,” Samuel Beckett’s 1965 “dramaticule.” Corning originally wanted to use the brief physical-theater piece in her 2015 work BECKETT & beyond, but says that including it in six a breast turned out to be a match made in heaven. The moving play features three women in stylish chapeaus sitting on a bench in a round-robin conversation consisting of only 130 spoken words.

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