In the kitchen, recipes are like road maps. Follow the directions and hopefully you'll arrive at success.
But sometimes the hard work and attention to details don't pay off; other times adding your own twist can make the outcome even better.
Life unfolds like that sometimes, says choreographer Beth Corning. She notes that a recipe, by definition, is simply rules to follow to create something.
"When you think about that, it's like, 'Well, whose rules and whose recipe is this?'"
Those questions are at the core of her new dance theater piece, "Recipes Our Mothers Gave Us." It's the latest installment of Ms. Corning's annual Glue Factory Project, which highlights the talents of artists age 40 and older. It runs Wednesday through Sunday at the New Hazlett Theater, North Side.
Her production company, Corningworks, started the Glue Factory Project in 2000 in Minneapolis and brought it to Pittsburgh in 2010. The name is a nod to the practice of using aging horses' parts to make adhesives. There is a richness to dancers' movements that comes with experience and age, Ms. Corning says. For a veteran, sometimes a simple hand gesture can pack more potency than a string of complicated tricks executed by a younger performer.
Family food traditions were a natural inspiration for a piece referencing recipes. When people follow recipes passed down by their mothers, the food sometimes isn't as good as when Mom made it, Ms. Corning says.
"The other reality is, even if it's not a food recipe and your mother sort of said something to you, that might have worked for her in 1930, but is that going to work for you in 2014?"
These ideas of passing down and following recipes become a metaphor for life.
"I love metaphors," Ms. Corning says. "I love the depth of them. I love the layers of them."
The work itself started off like a recipe that required a substitution. Ms. Corning choreographed it for herself, French-born Swedish performer Francoise Fournier and Zimbabwe native Nora Chipaumire, now based in New York City. When Ms. Chipaumire had a scheduling conflict, Ms. Corning sought out another dancer whose artistry would complement the flavor of the piece and tapped Chinese choreographer, playwright and actor Maria Cheng.
Another challenge was staging it with the audience seated on three sides of the stage.
"You have to really dance in three dimensions," Ms. Corning says, always being conscious about how choreography will look from various angles. "My hope is that someone comes back a couple times. They're going to see a different show if they sit in a different place."
The recipe theme will continue in the theater lobby after each performance with a complimentary food tasting featuring local chefs.
"I try to create themes that are human, about the human condition, so I'd like this to speak to people," Ms. Corning says. "My hope is eventually people will go to the theater, and they won't expect anything but a really good show."
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.