In the land of the young, most dancers grow old reluctantly. But not Beth Corning, artistic director of Corning Dances and Company, whose dance-theater work If This Is the Last Dance...Dance Backwards, runs Thursday through Saturday, May 16 through 19 at the Illusion Theater. "I realized that the themes I was uncovering for myself kept maturing, but the dancers kept getting younger," says the 47-year-old choreographer. "I've always been interested in the nuance of movement, as opposed to being seduced by its athleticism." So three years ago she started the Glue Factory Project, surrounding herself with local mid-career artists interested in looking beyond the purely physical.
For this year's edition of the project, Corning has corralled some of the ripest, most rambunctious dancers in town: Chris Aiken, Paula Mann, James Sewell, and Jane Shockley. "Jane fills every inch of her body with an idea, and whenever I see Chris onstage I want to bottle it," says Corning, who is equally enthusiastic about Mann's powerful sense of quiet and Sewell's dramatic presence.
During rehearsals, the dancers often find time to talk about the fuller lives they've accumulated offstage. "The women tend to talk about menopause, while the men get into the sleeping habits of their daughters," observes Corning, who finds such conversations a tonic for the rush of daily life. "Today, people ricochet off of one another with no time for reflection," she adds.
Corning's latest work explores the sense of isolation at the core of this increasingly frantic experience. In one section, the dancers wrestle against gale-force winds produced by a phalanx of fans, running as fast as they can just to stay in place. Later, a bittersweet duet features Corning and Sewell nudging in and out of unwieldy embraces and sweeping through forlorn phrases of romantic longing. Is that all there is? their dancing seems to ask. And then it hints at the answer, Well, yeah, but maybe it's enough.