What do women “of a certain age” have to tell us about the world?
A great deal, it turns out, although – when told through the medium of dance, as in the CorningWorks dance assemblage The World As We Know It – obliquely and with circumspection. These women aren’t giving their hard-earned knowledge of the world away.
The piece consists of six solo dance performances knitted together by interludes featuring the entire ensemble. Less overtly thematic and narrative than much of Corning’s previous work, the pieces, taken both individually and collectively, nonetheless explore familiar territory for her: gender roles and expectations, social pressures on women, and women’s lack of access to social and economic power. The ironic costuming underscores the evening’s political edge: when the “tribe” of women come together in the interludes, they are dressed in oversized pastel-colored men’s suits that make them look like children playing dressup; but as the interludes build to a final tableau around a “boardroom table,” it becomes clear that in reality the suits are nothing but an empty signifier of patriarchal power, a silly marker of status.
Each solo dance is expressive in a different way of women’s embodied desire, yearning, and pain, building on a shared movement vocabulary to capture and convey the weight of lived female experience. Five of the six dancers are “of a certain age,” and they seem to move from a place deep in muscle memory; what they know of the world is communicated more through small, subtle, and secret gestures than through flamboyant athleticism.
Yet there is also plenty of agility and dexterity woven into each solo. The show opens with “In medias res,” Li Chiao-Ping’s acrobatic pas de deux with a table, which is set to text constellated around the syllable “be.” In the second solo, Mauriah Kraker’s “the quiet,” dancer Simone Ferro seems to shed her skin like a frantic butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. Women’s domestic matters find exploration in the next three solos: Endalyn Taylor pulls forward moments of physical and emotional crisis in “Is All,” a piece choreographed by Sarah Hook that I took to be a meditation on postpartum existential despair; Charlotte Adams emerges nude from a bathtub in “Imagining Ketchikan (Canciones del Corazon),” rendering visible the joy and pleasure that a mature body continues to be able to both produce and feel; and Beth Corning reprises, from her 2016 piece Remains, a scene around a dinner table that evokes the generations of family whose endearing habits and irritating idiosyncrasies have been lost to time. The final solo, Heidi Latsky’s “Unfinished,” is danced with brio by Jillian Hollis; a redhead like Corning, Hollis seems to stand in both for Corning’s younger self and for the future of the dance form, a future that will carry forward, in bodies at all stages of life, the insights and wisdom earned by artists like Adams, Chiao-Ping, Corning, Ferro, and Taylor.