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Puppets and dance combine for performance on the North Side

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Corning Works will use puppets in its newest dance performance, 'The Life and Death of Little Finn.' Credit: Corning Works

‘The Life & Death of Little Finn'

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, 8 and 10 p.m. Sept. 13-15; and 6 and 8 p.m. Sept. 16

Admission: $30; $25 for students and seniors; Sept. 16, pay what you can

Where: Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, North Side.

Details: 877-445-1310 or showclix.com

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For years, Beth Corning has been yearning to do dance theater with puppets, a desire realized in a new piece by Marina Harris called “The Life & Death of Little Finn” for which Corning created the choreography.

“For me, puppets are the essence of nuance,” Corning says. “I love the small gestures, small details. I love it that they create the opportunity for my imagination to kick in. Puppets are so evocative. One tilt of the head, and they evoke an entire lifetime of emotion. They are so simple and, yet, audiences, even adults, watch with childlike wonder.”

Corning Works will present the premiere of “The Life & Death of Little Finn” at performances Wednesday through Sept. 16 at the North Side's Children's Museum theater, which seats 30. The show is for adults 18 and older.

The dancers will be Melinda Evans, a former principal dancer with Utah Repertory Dance Theatre, Corning and Harris — plus six puppets.

Harris, who has created costumes and choreography for Corning for 25 years, says she's wanted to do something with puppets for a long time. She imagined a piece set in an intimate theater, with a portable set.

And, she knew she wanted to keep it pretty simple. “The body can express emotions, but really can't express ideas,” Harris says. “It can suggest a kind of dramatic arc, but can't do anything like a mathematical problem or something philosophical. Dancers who try to do that usually have copious notes in the program, and if you didn't see them, you wouldn't know what it's about. The visual stuff just has to work on its own.”

But as much as Harris was drawn to puppets, she knew an hourlong piece would require a strong visual context.

“Puppets can be really boring, because they don't do very much. Each has a very few things it can do. You design it to do that thing, and once you're done, that's it,” she says

Thus, in addition to creating the story line, costumes and puppets, Harris decided she needed to create an animated back drop, before which all the action takes place.

Harris has been working on “Little Finn” for about two years. She says puppets are pretty slow to make, but that creating animation is much slower. She did cut-up animation rather than drawing, many showing Little Finn's inner life.

Her husband, architect Kip Harris, designed and built the stage, which is made of aluminum and fairly abstract. He also put together the lighting and wired the lighting board.

But he wasn't done, because Marina Harris says she was maxed out from her animation work.

“I thought I would probably blow up if I had to learn another software,” she says, “so I made him program the whole show, which he'll run off a laptop.”

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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