Written by Steve Ha
In its world premiere performance, Catherine Cabeen’s Into the Void presented a rich, unmitigated journey into creativity. Inspired by the New Realist movement figurehead Yves Klein, Cabeen’s choreography brought together vaporous dancing, striking visuals, and the minds of several collaborating artists to procure an illusory realm that transcended the boundaries of performance art. Up close, the temptation to reach out and touch, to feel the very air the performers breathed would have been great, but would have also marred the pristine environment through which Into the Void took place.
Dressed in a three-piece suit as Klein, Cabeen began the performance lying on her back in a square of light, as if meditating before the onslaught of imagery that would flood her mind. When she rose off the floor, moving with the litheness of a panther, her limbs cleaved the air with pencil straight lines and impeccable precision. The overall quality of Cabeen’s choreography throughout is free of gravity but not relaxed; each gesture is suspended for a moment in time, finding its own tempo and giving equal substance to every inch of negative space surrounding the dancers. Conventional ideas of up and down, left and right were completely eliminated in even the simplest roll of a shoulder or undulation of the spine. It was as if watching the phantom of Klein romancing his blank canvass before determining what needed to be on it.
Kane Mathis provided a brilliant score; at times a soundscape of plucked chords and at others percussive beats and echoes. Each change in music marked shifts in several themes, fleshing out various aspects of Klein’s life—from martial arts influences to swing dancing, moments of recognizable human characteristics that were woven into the austerity of the piece as a whole provided fascinating jewels of intellectual design. With dancers dressed in deep indigo, metallic gray, and coppery orange, sometimes Void radiated and sometimes it merely glowed, finding several shades in between and making it easy for the audience to lose themselves in the seamless transitions from theme to theme. From feather light, balletic duets to dark manifestations of aggression in very physical wrestling, Cabeen successfully maintained cohesiveness in style throughout, while texturing each phase of the work to renew the piece within itself and ensure there was always something of interest to the eye.
Some of the finer points of the choreography in Void included unusual interactions between the performers, who rather than act and react to each other seemed triggered by one another instead. The touching of feet or hands would send one spiraling away, highlighting a transfer of energy between them in nonlinear fashion. At other times a simple touch caused another body to pulse, sending a wave through the adjacent dancer. Combined with a sense of expansiveness through their backs and length in their extremities, each dancer exhibited a sense of infinite reach into space. The unlimited potential of each body aptly mirrored the potential of a creative mind with carte blanche.
In true homage to Klein, two nude dancers smeared blue paint on their bodies, and as Cabeen opts to do throughout, clued the audience in by revealing every step of the artistic process. The dancers themselves undressed on stage, and removed Cabeen’s wig and helped her undress, as one of the blue painted women pressed her body against Cabeen, imprinting the familiar image as seen in Klein’s famous Anthropometrie. It was the artistic apex of Cabeen’s work to realize the blue body in this manner, at first haunted by its image before intimately having it impressed upon her. After what is best described as an enlightenment, a sense of purity flooded the stage, with Cabeen donning simple white garb, hair freely flowing, and indulging in a newfound liberation. When the piece concluded, she alone approached the audience with a satisfied smile creasing across her face.
To say that Into the Void is art at its finest is an understatement—it is an experience that uses contemporary movement in all the right ways and is arguably at the forefront of a new generation of dance artists. Powerful in imagery and brimming with sophistication, Cabeen has created a portal through which an audience can view something they may have never been able to imagine on their own. With two performances remaining this weekend, Into the Void is not to be missed—it is a guaranteed escape from reality, not into fantasy, but into imagination and ingenuity.
Two performances of Into the Void remain at Merrill Wright Mainstage Theater at On The Boards, 8:00pm on Friday April 29th and Saturday April 30th. For ticket information, please visit: http://www.ontheboards.org/performances/void
Approximate runtime: 70 minutes, no intermission