There is a lot of dance out there to be seen. Wherever you go there is some person pushing a postcard of advertisement into your hand with a list of choreographers and participating dancers on the back. There are choices to be made when it comes to what to see both artistically and economically, from the post card pushers lower ticket price to BAM, City Center, Lincoln Center, The Joyce P.S 122, or DTW. No matter what your price point, you want to emerge from the darkness of the theater…moved, changed, challenged or sated, like you push back form the table, unbutton your pants and sigh in contentment.
Often what happens is more akin to the experience of having Chinese food- usually you end up with some watered down, Americanized imitation that though filling, while you’re eating you know that there is something better out there, and then an hour you’re hungry again. This is why I avoid seeing a lot of the dance that’s out there, sitting in the theater I get irritated, perturbed and finally angry. I tend to be irascible and ill behaved when cornered and forced to endure bad dance happening to good people [meaning the dancers and I suppose that extends to the audience members that are on a level held hostage] Ok that was a bit verbose, but if you are reading this then I bet you have been in a situation that made you feel just that way.
That having been stated, there are times when I am so taken aback at what is presented that it almost makes me wonder “Is this what I have been missing? Perhaps I should come out more often.” Those times are few and far between but the moment Catherine Cabeen padded onto the stage and took her place beside a heap of crumpled white papers on May 12th at Joyce SoHo that is what happened, I was enthralled.
I can in no way feign incredulity, I have enjoyed Ms.Cabeen as a dancer for years [Bill T.Jones] and had the pleasure of interviewing her prior to the opening so the density, thought, clarity of purpose and intention I cannot say came as a surprise. I already knew of the prowess of her presence alone. No I was not taken aback as much as delighted. It was like being ravenously hungry and then being led blindfolded into a banquet of your favorite foods including things you had forgotten you’d liked or hadn’t had in a long time, even some things you never thought would be to your liking but were, sheer delight.
Cabeen herself is a feast for the eyes, not only as a mover but as a crafter. Composites was a thesis statement of sorts for the evening. A solo set to music by Julian Martlew, and the text of writer Jay Mcleer it is built on a phonic movement vocabulary that reflects the text. The work shows not only her range and a dancer (technique clean as a whistle) the liquidity and articulation of her back, arms, (even her feet), and the clarity of her gesture, but it exposes her courage; her courage to be aggressive, confrontational, fully feminine with an assaulting beauty of both face and form, then masculine with a “don’t try me swagger”. It shows her ability to be classic and iconoclastic concomitantly, all within a small space and window of time with boundaries overlapping. She has the courage to tell what feels like quiet little secrets with the body, and through the eyes. She challenges you to watch while daring you to look away. She also has the courage to stand still. One of the most poignant moments in Composites is when Cabeen gathers herself together and stands amid the crumpled papers while Mcleer’s voice talks about the elements of “composure” as she stands, we see all the fear, pain, anxiety, anger, rage, and oppression in her effort to suppress these things, to keep them contained in the name of “composure” the building energy is only evidenced by the rustling sound of the papers beneath her feet. She has the courage not to give you- the audience the relief of release instead she, as the stage goes black, leaves you there to contemplate what passed before you.
It would be a hard job to have to follow Catherine Cabeen in a solo that she created on herself that had become your inheritance, but this was just the task that Sarah Lustbader had placed before her in Breeze (music by cCloudead). It the darkness of the transition between these pieces I was wondering if any one else would be able to do Composites as it seems to come so intrinsically out of the strengths and physical particularities of Cabeen’s body and sensibility. With Breeze I got part of the answer. In order to pull of a Cabeen on Cabeen work it takes alchemy of facility, virtuosity, maturity, emotional connectivity and presence. Lustbader had a fair amount of all of these things but not quite enough to sustain the level of expectation her predecessor set before her. Though it’s unfair to judge one against the other it is just what happened due to the placement of the two works and their performers on the program. I saw glimmers of those moments that made you “ahh” but for me it was more that I had already had a conversation and this was a reiteration of an utterance from that previous chat. Here is a thing that sounds petty but is a factor in how the work is viewed; Lusterbader’s was done a disservice by the choice of “costume” (a black shirt coupled pair of tight, red, distressed jeans cuffed at the bottom, and black dance sneakers) did nothing for her form or the work. It clashed with the clean lines and shapes that she was creating. The shoes were clunky and cut the line. It gave the piece a “college showing” sort of a feel. While well executed, the solo fell a bit flat over all.
Distances a duet for Cabeen and long time friend and colleague Echo Gustafson was perform with the two musicians, Kane Mathis (on the Oud) and Julian Martlew (on the Dobro) sitting on either side of the stage as the women explore the concepts of space and distance physically by intertwining, weaving, and unweaving their bodies together and apart, bearing and shifting weight, in the most confounding of ways. There was a meditative, aquatic, Tai Chi feeling about it. It was almost a study on intimacy and closeness, and then when the two individuals separate you (and they) have to figure out and establish who and what they are alone, before they come back together. The physical synchronicity between these to dancers was clear, when connected they seemed to think with one mind, it was difficult to establish where one woman ended and the other began. It was utterly fascinating to watch the various way of becoming intertwined, knotted with someone and yet finding a graceful way of extracting one’s self. What a physical metaphor for relationships…
The second half began with what felt like a study of sorts, a duet with Lustabader and Gustafson webbed by huge paper fans (created by Michael Cepress) attached to one of their legs, that they systematically expanded and manipulated between them. Chromatic Dispersions is interesting visually and texturally but the fans create a physical limitation that once the possibilities of what can be done with a fan strapped to your leg are explored, you kind of have no where else to go. Thankfully Cabeen knows this and the duet is short and therefore remains sweet. The evening ended as it began with Cabeen in the solo Segments, this time dancing her way to- through and against obstacles, down a shaft of light (Designed by Connie Yun) towards a Cora plucking Kane Mathis who sits on a bench at the other end of her journey. Structurally is it a well-crafted solo you can see her dance /life experience not only in her body and in her movement vocabulary choices, but also in her ability to edit herself. There are hints of Jones and Graham like tiny markers in her work, yet it is clear that she has digested her experiences and come to an understanding about what they (as influences are) and what they mean to her, there are respectful references to her linage that organically emerge almost the way ones cadence and intonation of speech is like that of your families, you can’t hear it but anyone listening can hear the similarities. She is organic, and authentic and it comes through her work, she takes risks, and not because they are there for the taking but because she doesn’t know how else to be. When viewing Catherine Cabeen, and her work I feel it’s not about “liking “ it or not, it’s not about getting it- or being “smart” enough to get it. It’s about something that we see very little of nowadays in dance (and elsewhere for that matter) it’s really about art and creativity, and making work because you are so moved to. Kinda hippy- dippy sounding but hey…Invariably when work is made without “agenda” it has the freedom to do what we “say” art should do, and that is, make you feel, think, question, imagine, reflect, in no particular order and possibly without judgment but simply by and for experience. It should stay with you, either hauntingly or like the hook of a song you can’t get out of your head making you ask yourself “Geez, it’s been 4 days why am I still thinking about that show?” It should inspire you, disturb you, soothe you but is always, always leave you altered, and that is what Cabeen’s work does, she slithers inside plants a thought, an image an idea and just as quickly as she entered she slips back into the darkness.