See Dick. See Dick run, See Jane. See Jane grow up and get disillusioned with life.
Her own thoughts on aging, and memories of 1930s grade-school readers, led Dance Alloy Theater artistic director and choreographer Beth Corning to create "At Once There Was a House." The funny and poignant musing on the question "Whatever happened to Dick and Jane?" is one of two repertory works the company is reviving to conclude its 30th-anniversary season.
"Those horrible little books, those horrible little people. Everybody in them was so perfect and sweet," says Corning of Dick and Jane. "You find out when you get older, life is not that simple. What is on the outside, and how we are perceived, is not necessarily what is going on with us on the inside."
"House" is part of BLACK/WHITE Dancing in the RED, at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater Dec. 8-11. The piece comprises a series of vignettes as zany as they are moving. A quintet of peculiar performers dressed in white emerge from behind a red curtain to put on a bizarre talent show that becomes a riveting look at the human condition. Oversized shoes, a white picket fence and a burning dollhouse are all part of Corning's vision.
The black and the other red in the program's title refer to the four red chairs and the black costumes in David Shimotakahara's "Open Seating" (1999). Developed from a word-association exercise he learned from maverick choreographer Liz Lerman, the 35-minute work for four dancers is set to an original score by composer Gustavo Aguilar that includes the scratchy sounds of a 78 rpm record of a love song sung in Spanish and played over and over. Like its soundtrack, "Open Seating" is a quirky and disturbing look at human nature, all within the confines of a 20-foot square. Competitiveness, aggression and vanity are just a few of the emotional states explored in the work.
"It is very athletic and exciting journey from beginning to end," says Mark Otloski, a dancer in Shimotakahara's Cleveland-based GroundWorks Dancetheater. Otloski, who has previously performed "Open Seating" with GroundWorks, was recruited as a guest dancer after the recent departure of DAT dancer Jacob Rice. Says Otloski of Shimotakahara's vision, "He told us to picture what the Jerry Springer television show would look like if [Shimotakahara] choreographed it."
Corning says that even loyal DAT followers who have seen one or both of the program's works will find something new in them.
"There is a maturing process for the works in repertory," says Corning. "They grow and evolve over time."
This is especially true for "At Once There Was a House," whose characters are constantly refashioned around the personalities and lives of the dancers who perform it.
Having seen both works on the program as performed by either DAT or GroundWorks at least half-a-dozen times, I can attest to the nuances offered by each cast and performance. I can also attest to their uncanny hold over audiences and their ability to touch the soul.
Dance Alloy Theater presents BLACK/WHITE Dancing in the RED Fri., Dec. 8-Mon., Dec. 11. Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty. $18 ($13 students/seniors); $20 at the door ($15 students/seniors). Wing seating: $50 (four per show, by reservation only). The Mon., Dec. 11, show is pay-what-you-can. 412-363-4321 or www.dancealloy.org