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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Catherine Cabeen, Niki de Saint Phalle, and the Tarot Tonight and Tomorrow

Posted by on Sat, Jan 19, 2013 at 2:51 PM

Catherine rising.
  • Courtesy of On the Boards
  • Catherine rising.

There are two performances left of Fire! at On the Boards, Catherine Cabeen's new evening-length dance work inspired by the visual art of Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002).

I have much to think about and say in response, but since the performances only last through tomorrow, here's the extreme shorthand:

1. Any time Catherine Cabeen moves her limbs and allows an audience, you should run, not walk. As a dancer, she is undeniably extraordinary. It does not matter what the movement is. She will not let go of your eyes as long as she is onstage. The tiniest roll of her shoulder, a knee slowly turning out, the release of a hip joint—every motion means.

2. The choreography of Fire! feels murky. The overall structure is inchoate in such a way that I was conceptually and narratively lost in the second half. Into the Void, which premiered at On the Boards in 2011—the first in the triptych of pieces commissioned by OtB that Cabeen plans to devote to the visual artists de Saint Phalle (Fire!), Yves Klein (Into the Void), and Jean Tinguely (to come in 2015)—had none of this lack of clarity, and was thrilling to me both in its physical and intellectual aspects. My response to the individual movements in Fire! (some feeling overly literal) was also mixed. You can rent Into the Void for your own comparison.

The OtB blog is always a good source of audience responses while a show is running. I wonder how Cabeen would compare her own experience of the two pieces, and I wonder what the Tinguely piece will bring.

 

Comments (11) RSS

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1
Thanks Jen. I have to say the most powerful thing I learned in making this piece is how strongly one's chosen subject matter effects not only the product but the process as well.
Yves Klein had a clear artistic mission statement. His work was about energy and spiritual evolution. Hence the process and the final work of "Into the Void" were supported by those ideas/sensations.
Niki de Saint Phalle on the other hand was a survivor. She was swept around and tangled up by her muses, culture, family, success etc. Her life took her in and out of mental institutions and her work is alternately childish and abstract, and extremely dark. I considered crafting a simple narrative that I could force parts of her story into, but it didn't feel as honest as the murky non-linear world we ended up with. Researching and responding to her work created an emotionally challenging journey for all of my collaborators throughout the process of making Fire!.
Even now Fire! isn't clear to me either. Performing it feels like I am trying to get out of a labyrinth. But honestly- my life has felt like that for the last few years as well, so I think the lack of narrative structure represents something integral about certain stages of human life. I hope the work will speak to other people who are also less than crystal clear about how/why/or where to move forward.
I have no idea how Tinguely will speak to me- but if he's as volatile as de Saint Phalle, I may pick a different artist. :)
Sincerely,
Catherine Cabeen
Posted by ccabeen on January 19, 2013 at 4:31 PM · Report this
2
Thanks Jen,
I think the most important thing that I learned in creating these two pieces is how powerfully the subject matter one chooses effects both the product and process of the work.
Yves Klein had a very clear mission statement for his art. His work was aimed at the manifestation of energy and spiritual evolution. "Into the Void" was saturated with that clarity.
Niki de Saint Phalle on the other hand was a survivor. Her life took her in and out of mental institutions and she was tangled up and tossed about by her muses, culture, family, success etc. Her work is alternately childish and abstract, and extremely dark. Researching her work created an intense emotional journey for all of my collaborators. I considered crafting a simple narrative that aspects of her story could fit into, but it didn't seem as honest as the murky, cyclical world we ended up with.
Even now Fire! isn't entirely clear to me either. Performing it feels like I am trying to find my way through a labyrinth. But honestly- my life has felt like that for the last few years as well. Sometimes the path is unclear, and I hope Fire! will speak to others who are not entirely clear on how/ where/ or why to move forward. Sometimes we can only find the answers, or the right questions, in the doing.
I have no idea how Tinguely will speak to me, but honestly- if he is as volatile as de Saint Phalle, perhaps I will choose a different artist. :)
Sincerely,
Catherine Cabeen
Posted by ccabeen on January 19, 2013 at 4:51 PM · Report this
Posted by tim koch on January 19, 2013 at 6:50 PM · Report this
4
Hi Jen, 

One possible difference: Dramaturg.

You write of "Fire!" that "The overall structure is inchoate in such a way that I was conceptually and narratively lost . . . . "Into the Void", which premiered at On the Boards in 2011—had none of this lack of clarity, and was thrilling to me both in its physical and intellectual aspects."

Cabeen worked with Tonya Lockyer as her dramaturg on "Into the Void".  The role of the dramaturg in American dance is a relatively new one, but the responsibilities of the dramaturg include helping the choreographer with structure, clarity and the intellectual underpinnings/ research that inform the performance.  (It's challenging to be "inside" a dance as an amazing performer  and keep an "outside-eye" simultaneously.)   

Perhaps Lockyer's dramaturgy for 2011s "Into the Void" had an impact.
Posted by Timothy Youngston on January 20, 2013 at 6:57 PM · Report this
5
Jen,
Don't say you have much to say and then say little.
I think this piece reflects the complicated territory that is the life of NDSF.
Murky is a perfect tone for all that Catherine Cabeen and Company are addressing in this piece. I actually appreciated that there is a complex, opaque response to the dissonance of Niki's work, as it is complex and opaque.
The opening words of the piece actually GIVE you the key to the piece. "It's not a story, there's nothing to "get"" or something like that.
The fact is that the lack of clarity that you bemoan occurs only in narrative, which is tied to your own expectations of what is an accurate expression of Niki's life. This approach only disallows you access to Cabeen's dialogue with her muse. Perhaps the narrative between Cabeen and the subject is complex and murky, perhaps the dialogue has evolved to a place that is distant from it's subject or tangental in some way. Does that warrant casting the piece in an unsuccessful light? I really don't think so.

Posted by kasata on January 21, 2013 at 3:28 AM · Report this
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