Corning Works challenges the imagination with The Other Shoe at the New Hazlett

Photo by Frank Walsh c. 2021

Reviewed by George Hoover

Corning Works opened their season with The Other Shoe, a full-length dance/theater project in their Glue Factory series. The Other Shoe explores the state of our country and society today, where we are inundated by a torrent of information that we must process, evaluate and deal with.

The Other Shoe is a collaboration between dancer/choreographer Beth Corning and the famed actor/director/playwright Kay Cummings. Both artists created the concept and text, with Corning handling choreography and staging with Cummings directing.  

In a recent brief chat several weeks before opening, Corning mentioned, “this particular production while involving dance is a pretty “thick” theater work.” I suspect if one were to run a stopwatch, the show is about 50% solo dance work by Corning and 50% jointly developed dialogue.

The opening dialogue forms the context for the performance:

    “I am sitting here with a mic

      and some papers

      so I look like I have something to say

      and know what I’m talking about . . .” 

Interwoven with the dialogue are four works by some of the dance field’s leading choreographers: Donald ByrdMartha ClarkeLi Chaio-Ping, and Max Stone.

The show cold opens with a solo by Corning, choreographed by Max Stone, set to a pulsating sound, perhaps musical, perhaps a clock ticking, maybe a heartbeat. Much of the choreography involves upper bodywork draws you in; what is going on? What is she trying to tell me?

This piece ends, and we are welcomed to the show by a somewhat confused male announcer.

Cummings then enters the upstage catwalk enveloped in a stream of light to deliver the ‘I Have Microphone’ speech. This is the first of many witty and thought-provoking scenes that bridge and bind together the dance solos.

The dance work I found most interesting is by guest choreographer Martha Clarke, perhaps based on the Italian opera Pagliacci. Corning comes on stage with her feet firmly planted in big a bucket and a basket that she drags around as he walks. When she steps out of them, her feet are revealed to be in smaller buckets. Do the buckets represent things that make up our individual self; race, nationality, age, gender? Even if she shakes herself loose from a bucket, it is not long before it reattaches itself. You just can’t get away from what makes us who we are.

The Other Shoe’s direction, choreography, lighting, sets, costumes, and sound integrate seamlessly in unified support of the shared artistic vision. No one design element outshines another, nor is any sub-par. Each individual design element makes every other element shine.

Note the shoes hanging from the grid. Photo by the writer,

Stephanie Mayer Staley’s minimalistic set design is comprised mainly of tables and shoes. The choreographers use the tables extensively, along with the inherent features of the New Hazlett’s performance space.

There is a large design element stage left. Perhaps a monolith or maybe just a sheet of plywood, purpose unknown, until a tiny door opens dead center on the panel, that revealing Cumming’s face, framed chin to eyebrows. Lighting Designer Iain Court illuminates the opening and her face in a basketball-sized white spot, with a soft red border around the white light. I-Phone perhaps, or just a pipe with a face and a continuous flow of seemingly important information. “I have a microphone, I have papers…

Kristian McLain, credited as the costume seamstress/artist, uses a monochromatic palette. She dresses Corning in white with curving black lines, Cummings in black with the same line pattern in white. 

There is a paper program, such a rare and wonderful thing these days. The inside cover comes with a warning from the collaborators: “If by chance you don’t agree with what is being presented…well, that’s the point. Talk amongst yourselves.” 

And wait for the other shoe to drop…

Corning Work’s The Glue Factory Project presents The Other Shoe at the New Hazlett Theater now through October 24th. For tickets, visit: https://newhazletttheater.org/events/corningworks-the-other-shoe/

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