Dance review: 'Recipes' mixes movement, emotion

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Beth Corning's recipe for dance theater has increasingly drawn from life, with its strong bittersweet memories and inevitable dysfunctions. But in her latest Glue Factory Project production at the New Hazlett Theater, she turned to the real deal, "Recipes Our Mothers Gave Us."

Wednesday's performance had all the mouth-watering details, so carefully assembled and thoughtfully presented, that are a trademark of Ms. Corning's work, which features dancers over 40. But this one was strained through the kitchen, which was suggested by movable kitchen islands and an assortment of pots and utensils.

‘Recipes Our Mothers        Gave Us’
Where: New Hazlett Theater, North Side.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $30 or $25 for seniors/students; www.showclix.com or 1-888-718-4253. Sunday matinee is pay what you can. Seating limited.
Information: www.corningworks.org.

She had two strong women on her current dance journey, notable for an ability to stand their own ground but most riveting for their ability to meet on common ground. There was French/Swedish Francoise Fournier and her piercing elegance and Maria Cheng, so direct and unafraid to teeter on the edge of Chinese caricature without toppling into its pitfalls.

Ms. Corning has allowed a swatch of white to creep into her signature red hair, that bold tint so agreeable to her personality and outlook on life. It can mean a number of things -- she is nothing if not deliberate and maintains a bold vision.

The other women have known Ms. Corning for more than 20 years but had just met for this project. Yet, as a trio, they developed an unshakable sense of camaraderie that infused the evening.

So many things blended into "Recipes," starting with the ever-present mother/daughter umbilical cord ("Stand up straight. Hold your head high"). There was a look in their eyes when they whipped out a knife. They chose ingredients to make a happy life but made rather diabolical stews (baby dolls, a Ken doll, money, a Chinese fan and more) in big pots that inspired streaks of jealousy. So "Recipes" was home-centered but definitely not homespun.

Particularly memorable were the three major solos -- Ms. Corning spellbinding in a simple but well-crafted turn, Ms. Fournier expanding on that with such breathtaking finesse, and Ms. Cheng just trying to fit in, among other things, a large pot.

Subtleties made the evening that much more flavorful, such as the beautifully textured beige costumes by Marina Harris and Ms. Corning that stylishly complemented the women's colorful personalities, Iain Court's flexible lighting design and the choice accompaniment from Mary Ellen Childs and assorted artists. Guest chefs will follow each performance. (Wednesday featured Bar Marco's Jamilka Borges and Sarah Thomas.)

There also was a STOMP-like rhythmic playground to be found in this "kitchen," choreographed by Ms. Childs. Wooden spoons were used for weaponry, rims of wine glasses provided a haunting musical landscape, and a harp-like egg slicer adding some unexpected tidbits.

It should be mentioned that Ms. Corning was under the weather and lost her voice. As she used a microphone, her voice echoed like the memories that sometimes swirl in our heads.

While the opening kitchen island promenade, with its extended play of emotion over the performers' faces, was quizzical at first and the ending seemed uncertain, this "Recipes" should be seen by all women and the men who want to understand the mystery, power and awe of the opposite sex.


Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish: jvranish1@comcast.net. She also blogs at pittsburghcrosscurrents.com.

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