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Cabeen Plays the Piper at Olympic Sculpture Park

 Written by Irene  E. Beausoleil
Catherine Cabeen and Company
Photo by Steve Mahler
Catherine Cabeen, choreographer and director of Catherine Cabeen and Company, has never been one to ask dance to do all the leg work. Inter-disciplinary collaboration with musicians, lighting and fashion designers, writers, and composers has been the calling card and mission of the company since its formation in 2009. Her latest work, Where They May takes a new step in this integrative direction; outdoors.

The audience at The Olympic Sculpture Park on Thursday, August 16, 2012, was the kind of audience you don’t usually find at a concert house. The day was impressively warm, tickets were free, and there were a myriad of entertaining activities for park visitors which drew together casual youth escaping the heat, picnic lovers, parents with playful children, dog owners, and more than a handful of modern dance devotees. Among the notable events of the day was a concert given just prior to Cabeen and Company by musical collaborators, The Kora Band. The world music ensemble combines influences of West-African music with the rich American tradition of jazz. The talented musicians Julian Martlew, Kane Mathis on kora harp, and Chad McCullough on trumpet, accompanied the dancers throughout their performance.

After the Kora Band concert, the performers appeared from nowhere, but in plain sight, obscured by the brightness of the setting sun behind them. Stepping along the perimeter of the amphitheater, ten dancers walked in synch, dressed in pants and multi-colored hooded sweaters, lead by McCullough. The audience followed the performers, evoking the story of the Pied Piper leading children away, to finally arrive at a corner in the path. Here, the audience  received its first taste of Cabeen’s choreography, set to an improvised musical score performed by Mathis. The kora had an organic quality of cascading water, so it wasn’t surprising that the audience rippled away from the performers suddenly found amongst them. This creative use of perspective, of making the performers appear unexpectedly, was repeated throughout the performance giving the effect of an outdoor curtain.

Dancer Paula Peters
Photo by Steve Mahler 
The first duet felt like a salutation to the scene. Framed by the other eight dancers in a single row and a gigantic red metal structure titled simply “The Eagle,” Cabeen’s movement featured long lines and a smooth tranquility mirrored by her partner, Echo Gustafson. The seamless transitions led the eye to initially focus on the movement, but then to see it in the greater context of the environment, accentuating the natural borders of the grassy floor and subtly acknowledging the art. The duet ended with a quirky waltz step, and focus returned to the other eight performers now slowly moving down the hill side in spacious, deliberate waves. Three performers walked in front of the hill side, moving in direct opposition but watching as if judging from above. McCullough awaited the three walkers, playing the piper, ready to lead viewers to the next destination.

The audience arrived at a narrow corridor featuring two trees and Martlew, now playing slide guitar. A smoky, sexy sound emerged from his battery-powered amp that cued jazz dancer Paula Peters to deliver her solo, a bluesy, sumptuous work that transported the audience to a crowded bar in the south. Weighted, circular movements utilizing the surrounding walls and trees sent clouds of dust into the air when Peters took off the proverbial gloves and confronted the audience with exactly what she’s capable of. Dynamic specificity has always been a part of Cabeen’s work, but this had an entirely new feel of character and immediacy.

Not to be overlooked was a beautiful use of the lawn by Cabeen and the entire ensemble. The dancers moved as a group, like a school of fish flitting from one corner of the ocean to the other. A jumping section was especially remarkable and joyous to watch.

Dancer and Choreographer Catherine Cabeen
Photo by Steve Mahler
The concert concluded with a journey to the shoreline. The performers sat on a single log accompanied by both Mathis and McCullough, watching Cabeen and her previous partner begin to dance among the waves. Two unintentional performers were in the water and immediately began a speedy exit. Followed subtly by Cabeen, this lent a touch of humor and spontaneity to the concert. With a sense of the connection between the partners, the duet seemed to represent the autonomous relationship between art and the natural landscape. Both are unintentionally beautiful and interconnected.

Cabeen met Gustafson in the waves; the other dancers stood with the musicians to take a final bow, signaling the end of the concert and the setting of the sun. In this context, most of the audience was all too happy to be entranced by the magic of Cabeen and her Pied Piper. It may have been the heat, but it seemed like all were eager to dive in after the performers, leaving the concerns of a busy city life on the beach.