Strife Inspired Art: CORNINGWORKS’ ‘the other shoe’ [REVIEW]

CORNINGWORKS
The Glue Factory Project – the other shoe
The New Hazlett Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
October 20-24, 2021

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Adding their voices to the endless stream of political and social discourse seemingly dominated by polarizing rhetoric and the ramblings of boorish pundits and outright loons, dancemaker Beth Corning along with co-creator, Kay Cummings offered up a more civil deep dive into the complexities of several of society’s ills in CORNINGWORKS’ dance theater production, the other shoe.

The hourlong, multimedia work performed to an array of music, was performed by Corning and Cummings, directed by Cummings, a noted actor/director, and choreographed by Corning along with solo dance contributions from award-winning choreographers Donald Byrd, Martha Clarke, Li Chiao-Ping, and Max Stone.

On Sunday, October 24, on a set designed by Stephanie Mayer Staley and filled with varying sized tables, a bench, a stool, and a swing along with white shoes suspended from the rafters, Corning, costumed in black and white entered onto the black and white paneled stage floor and climbed atop a tall table to sit in silence. As banging industrial music began, she launched into a volley of hand and arms gestures — some angular, some rounded — that moved in front of, and around her body. The solo for her created by Sexy Beast NYC artistic director, Stone, continued with Corning hopping off the table to sit on a bench and execute even more gestured movement including tracing tears down her cheeks with her fingers.

Utilizing much of The New Hazlett’s three-tiered stage space, Cummings then appeared on the uppermost tier, seated at a table in front of a microphone and musing on the state of society today. “Pain is not a contest,” she later exclaimed in talking about people who lay claim to being the most oppressed. The pair throughout the work delved into familiar hot button issues from sexism, ageism and the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements, to white privilege. Said Cummings of the latter, “Privilege is not a monolith but a sliding scale.”

Beth Corning in “the other shoe”. Photo credit: Corningworks/Frank Walsh.

The production had the feel of having fallen down Lewis Carroll’s rabbit hole from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Only this time the characters we meet converse in clever dialogue a la the protagonists in an Aaron Sorkin or Beau Willimon drama. With CORNINGWORKS’ usual elevated creativity and production value, Corning and Cummings set forth sharp reminders of the societal problems that we are faced with every day, while acknowledging that they, like many of us, feel powerless and/or too exhausted to solve them.   

While Cummings did most of the heavy lifting dialogue-wise, Corning danced all the contributed solos. Of note was Li Chiao-Ping’s in which Corning, atop another table and wearing only one shoe, portrayed a tormented woman. Performing to what sounded like a liturgical aria, Corning engaged in movement that had her folding and unfolding her arms. She then came off the table to walk an imaginary tightrope to end the modern dance solo. Also of note, was Martha Clarke’s solo in which Corning, a Pagliacci-like clown wearing metal buckets on her hands and feet, waltzed about the stage talking to herself and being startled and fearful of her surroundings. Corning appeared a metaphor for our collective frustrations and sadness at being hampered in our efforts to move forward on these societal issues of import, many of which have been with us for generations.

The latter half of the work featured one of its most disturbing and thought-provoking scenes in which Cummings, speaking from behind a large door in which she opened a tiny door on that door to reveal only her face lit by spotlight. Her serious dialogue pondered the current phenomenon of judging and convicting individuals based only on accusations of wrongdoing.

Expertly crafted with sage performances by Corning and Cummings, perhaps the only knock on the other shoe was that there wasn’t much reprieve from the weighty, often dark approach to the subject matter. In the end however, CORNINGWORKS’ most unabashed political dance work to date proved a success and one whose imprint on audiences was surely felt.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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