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Corning Works dances around fate of Dick and Jane with 'At Once There Was A House'

| Wednesday, March 18, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Beth Corning's dance expression of what became of Dick and Jane, is the idea behind “At Once There Was A House.'
Corning Works
Beth Corning's dance expression of what became of Dick and Jane, is the idea behind “At Once There Was A House.'

Anniversaries are inherently retrospective, but Beth Corning knows how to mix past and present in a provocative way.

Corning Works will celebrate its fifth anniversary with a new version of her exploration of what happened to Dick and Jane, the characters from the first-reader series for children.

“At Once There Was A House” will be performed from March 25 to 29 at the New Hazlett Theater, North Side.

“We were weaned on this, and who are you now?” she asks. “What I love about this is the basis of my work — the secrets we as human beings seek to reveal and seek to hide, from ourselves and others.”

The work was first performed more than a decade ago when Corning was based in Minneapolis.

“I originally made it on 20- to 30-year-olds,” she says. “The metaphors were so literal. It got great reviews, and I liked it, but I do remember thinking, ‘Oh, my god, let's do it on adults.”

The new production is part of Corning's Glue Factory Project, which uses performers over 40.

She revived it twice while artistic director of Dance Alloy Theater, which she left in 2010.

“I have to admit that when I looked at a video of ‘House,' I realized I tend to forget details of my work. I remember shadows of them,” Corning says. “When you look at the video, you can critique it as if it's not your own. When I watched it almost a year ago, I thought I might do it again. I think this will be the most sublime incarnation. It's gone from almost 30 minutes to an hour and will be performed by people who know who Dick and Jane were.”

The show's concept is flexible because it contrasts the simplified and idealized world presented in the Dick and Jane books with characters who have grown up. She varies the characters according to the performers with whom she's working.

“It was really designed that each person who performs it makes a very different role,” she says.

Jackie Dempsey, the musician and performer who founded Squonk Opera, was the first person Corning thought of for the new version of “House.” Corning says she has come to “adore” Dempsey while consulting on movement for Squonk shows.

Although dancers are silent in ballet, words can be important in dance theater. Corning says she will be using bits from satirical writer Larry Siegel's “The Dick and Jane Hamlet.”

Actor and musician John Gresh will not only be part of the cast, he will play with his band is Gris Gris at the Corning Works' champagne birthday party March 27, for which there is a higher admission.

The rest of the cast includes Yoav Kaddar, formerly with Pilobolus, Jose Limon and Paul Taylor dance companies; Michele de la Reza, dancer, choreographer and founder of Attack Theatre, and Tamar Tolentino, formerly a principal dancer with Pittsburgh Ballet Theater.

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

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