Beth Corning watched her life unfold around her and for New Hazlett Theater audiences. Read about her fearlessness and the drama of it all in her latest piece, the solo work Remains in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
But what she could still control was her work. Not just the steps, though. “I wanted to grow at a cellular level,” she explains after a rehearsal for her upcoming premiere at the New Hazlett Theater.
But at that stage of the game, after over 30 years of choreographing in Sweden, New York, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh, where do you go? “I was taught that if you wanted to ski better, ski behind somebody better,” she quietly asserts.
For years she had admired Dominique Serrand, Tony Award-winning theater director of Theatre de la jeune Lune in Minneapolis and now, fortuitously, with The Moving Company there. Armed with a grant from the Heinz Foundation for choreographic process, she called up her old friend and said, “Want to play with me for a year?”
Beth recalls that she was sweating, but he didn’t hesitate. “She wanted to do it with someone she could trust,” says Dominique on the phone from Minneapolis.Then he asked what she had in mind.
So they set up a performance date, like a carrot. It was as simple as that. But between the two there was a complete understanding that only if something was developing would they proceed. There was no obligation on anybody’s side.
Then they began. Would it be a dialogue from the start? Or so Beth thought. But what Dominique wanted was material from Beth’s own source of inspiration.
“I spent the first couple of months lying on the floor crying because I just didn’t know what to do or how to do it,” Beth reveals. Maybe she didn’t have to worry about anyone else, but she also didn’t have the companionship — the physical and social camaraderie that dancers tend to breed.
There was also no mirror, just four walls at the New Hazlett, which she had begun to consider her professional home. So she began to journal, writing her thoughts in a notebook. That helped.
Oddly enough that had taken the major part of their year together. They settled on biographical elements from Beth’s life, the Remains of her memories. What “remains” after loss? What “remains” after dinner? What “remains” after youth?
The work started to form only three months ago. Then it “really became exciting” according to Beth. She now calls Dominique her “mentor.” He calls himself a “dramaturg,” intent on developing the piece “in an honest fashion.”
Edit. Edit. Edit.
Dominique says that they “started with everything. But as you go, you get rid of unnecessary things and keep what is personal and exceptional. Make it stunning.”
They took all of her thoughts and memories and will present what is left of her memories, a personal journey, in Remains.
Now Beth can’t remember which sections have been “birthed” by whom. “I don’t know who’s done what now. We seeded it. We sat on the egg. We hatched it together.”
Beth calls the “final” product dance theater, although Dominique firmly believes that “theater should be physical anyway.” “Already I feel sophisticated,” Beth says happily. “I feel filled up — more than I felt in years, in decades, maybe. I now get why the work he does is so good.”
He has discovered how “courageous” Beth is, noting that “after all, when you do a solo about you, you’re so exposed and I admire that.”
And they both have discovered that the Hazlett Remains will just be a next step. The journey will continue, because art, at its best, continues to breathe and to grow…
They say you can’t go back, but the Pittsburgh Dance Council is ignoring that with its upcoming 2013-14 season. Executive director Paul Organisak, perhaps inspired by the Pittsburgh Festival of Firsts (exciting news in itself!) this fall and which he curated as well, has gone back to the adventuresome, experimental, what-the-hell-was-that programming that many of us knew and loved.
It appears that the PDC companies will include their own list of firsts: two North American premieres in partnership with the Festival, four new companies/projects out of six and seven new choreographers armed with local premieres.
Montreal’s Marie Chouinard will open both the Dance Council season and the Festival of Firsts. Gymnopedies, set to Eric Satie’s minimalist piano pieces, is the North American premiere, and will be paired with Michaux Mouvements, based on the poetry and drawings of Belgian Henri Michaux, which served as the literal jumping off point for the choreography. This will be the Quebec choreographer’s fourth visit to Pittsburgh, which has in the past produced The Rite of Spring and 24 Preludes by Chopin (a personal favorite of Organisak’s), among others (Sept. 28, Byham Theater).
Another sneak peak at the Festival line-up comes with Swiss artists Zimmermann & de Perrot, a physical theater duo, who will be literally thinking out of the box and inside it during Hans was Heiri. According to Organisak, Pittsburghers will see this event before it gets to New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music (Oct. 18, Byham).
On to the debut of the Brazilian group Compagnie Käfig, an international sensation that takes hip hop and puts it to samba and bossa bova. A company guaranteed to raise the spirits, it has appeared at Jacob’s Pillow and the Spoleto Festival, among others. What more can you do with plastic cups? (Feb. 1, Byham).
One of the highlights of the season is sure to be Ballet du Grand Thèâtre de Genéve and the start of a balletic finish to the season, but showing us where ballet is headed. Yes, this is the only company where George Balanchine served as artistic advisor (1970-78), but it has worked with numerous artists, including Baryshnikov, Kylian and Forsythe. Founded in 1962, the 22-member company brings two emerging artists on the international scene — Andonis Foniadakis’s Gloria, which will create a stylish new symbiosis with music by Baroque composer George Frideric Handel, and Ken Ossola’s Sed Lux Permanet, with sculpted shadow play to Fauré’s Requiem. (Mar. 8, Byham)
Acclaimed New York City Ballet principal dancer Wendy Whelan will be bringing her Restless Creature project, set to debut at Jacob’s Pillow this summer. She will dance four duets with four emerging choreographers — Pittsburgh’s Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Brian Brooks and Alejandro Cerrudo, whose Lickety Split was a sensation recently at Point Park University’s annual Byham concert. This one is creating a lot of buzz in the dance community. (Mar. 22, Byham)
The final contemporary ballet event will mark the return of Wayne McGregor l Random Dance, (Apr. 26, Byham). He is the resident choreographer at The Royal Ballet in London and it is his company. He has a scientific bent on ballet — using film, music, visual art and technology — that is truly unique (Apr. 26, Byham).
For ticket information click on Pittsburgh Dance Council.
American Idiot got down to business right from the start as chaos reigned on the Heinz Hall stage…and it virtually never stopped. A rock opera inspired by The Who’s Tommy and based on Green Day’s own album, it was mindful of another Broadway show, Spring Awakening, displaying a stage crowded with paraphernalia, memorabilia, lights and, in keeping with the coming-of-age theme for Idiot’s trio of contemporary teenagers, a bevy of television sets.
But American Idiot slathered on numerous excesses, heading farther afield than the other shows to grab its audiences. The best effects came from the scenic design, with spectacular lighting patterns that constantly played over it.
And there was not one teenager going through a life lesson, but three separate plot lines for best friends Johnny, Will and Tunny, who ached to escape the stifling life of a modest American town.
The main plot followed Johnny (Alex Nee) to the big city, where he spiraled into sex. drugs and, of course, rock ‘n roll. Tunny (Thomas Hettrick) quickly escaped from the big city, this time into the army. And Will (Casey O’Farrell) never made it out of Smallville, where he remained to take care of his pregnant girlfriend.
To its credit, each life story had its own intrigue, enough to keep audience interest high. Will and Heather (Kennedy Caughell) displayed their whole deteriorating relationship, with friends, baby and all, on a couch. Their lives unfolded in great detail, even as the spotlight centered on his friends.
Tunny went off to war, where he lost a leg and descended into depression, but was saved by The Extraordinary Girl (Jenna Rubah), in both fantasy (a terrific aerial duet) and in real life.
Much of the time was spent with Johnny, who had a fling with Whatsername (Alyssa DiPalma), one of a group of women with more gumption than the soft ending, and wrestled with his devilish alter-ego St. Jimmy (Trent Saunders). Alex Nee had the right combination of wholesomeness, with a dash of complexity, to shoulder the responsibility amid all the action.
It was hard to know where the movement impetus came from, Tony Award-winning director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening) or Tony-nominated choreographer Steven Hoggett (Once).
Hoggett is known as the “anti-dance choreographer.” He admitted has never been a dancer and thus has no technical training, so the movement comes from a familiar, even commonplace inspiration. In Great Britain there is something called physical theater, a powerful movement that has among its proponents DV8 and Stan Won’t Dance (which brought Sinner, described as a “self-destructive solo for two men” to Pittsburgh in 2006, where it made my Top Ten list).
Hoggett has been making a lot of noise lately, though. Founder of his own physical theater company in Wales called Frantic Assembly in 1994, he made his first big splash in 2009 for Black Watch, a play based on interviews from the famed British regiment and its Iraqi war experience and produced by the National Theatre of Scotland. He and director John Tiffany also collaborated on Once.
He is regarded as a choreographer who makes directorial decisions and his thumbprint was clear in the opening sequence where core cast members confronted the audience with lashing, guitar strumming motions before the rest spilled onto the stage.
Hoggett latched onto the high physical audacity of youth throughout, best when the bodies slid down railings and gobbled up the set, less effective when there were synchronized arm movements. The aerial duet was highly unexpected as it escaped the gravity of the earth and Tunny’s hospital gurney.
The question is, will this lead to fewer trained dancers or add to dance’s dimensions in musicals? It took a long time for the term “choreographer” to emerge. Now Hoggett, as well as others, want to eliminate it and substitute everyday moves, albeit with a structured eye.
Speaking of eyes, keep one out for this enterprising movement director. Right now, I would opt for Bill T. Jones, who grabbed his own Tony for the dance rites of passage in Spring Awakening, but has the range to do so much more.
Well the “stage” was constructed from a warehouse in lower Manhattan to resemble the five-floor, 100-room McKittrick Hotel. It was obviously a massive undertaking, no less so than to reinvent Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Read about my immersive physical theater experience in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.