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Originally published Friday, April 29, 2011 at 2:02 PM

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Review: Seattle dancer-choreographer Catherine Cabeen explores a dreamlike 'Void'

Seattle dancer-choreographer Catherine Cabeen's first evening-length piece, "Into the Void," is a seductive work to watch unfold, writes Michael Upchurch.

Seattle Times arts writer


'Into the Void'

Catherine Cabeen Company performs 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, On the Boards, 100 W. Roy St., Seattle; $12-$20 (206-217-9888 or Includes nudity.
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Sound can be a trance. Colors can be an embrace. Air can be a shape.

Those might seem like vague impressions to take away from "Into the Void," Seattle choreographer Catherine Cabeen's first evening-length piece, especially when you're aware of the research that went into "Void."

But vague impressions can't be helped.

Yves Klein, the French artist who inspired "Void," had his eye on the ineffable — and that, in large part, is what has drawn Cabeen to him.

Klein (1928-62) created work that sometimes left no trace but a memory. At other times, he suggested that his artistic process was as integral to the appreciation of a piece as any innate qualities in the work itself — for instance, in his "Anthropométries," created by covering nude models in paint, then having them roll across white paper.

Cabeen's 70-minute work alludes to certain specifics of Klein's life. But if you want to catch the references she's making, you'll have to do some homework first. Far from being a literal illustration of Klein's life and career, "Void" is a dreamlike, gender-fluid, near-subliminal exploration of what Klein means to Cabeen.

Take it as such, and it's a seductive piece to watch unfold.

It opens with a long solo in which a male figure (Cabeen in drag) constructs elaborately shaped worlds from the empty air around him. There's something of both the conjurer and the tease about Cabeen's Klein as she takes him through his paces. A slinky self-caress can turn into an open-armed offering; an airily balanced stance can turn to a folded-hand gesture of prayer (Klein had his mystic side).

Cabeen is accompanied at first only by Kane Mathis' hypnotic electronic score. But soon other dancers join her: Karena Birk, Echo Gustafson and Sarah Lustbader as female companions/nurturers, Matthew Henley as some kind of nemesis and the extraordinary Germaul Barnes (formerly with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, like Cabeen) as an otherworldly source of strength.

Tivon Rice's video — projected on three vertical screens — intersects with the live action in eye-bending ways, as gigantic images of the dancers fall from sight as if off the edge of the world. At other times, filmed footage of the performers shades into pulsing, featureless cartoon blobs.

Even with video, musical score and lighting (by Connie Yun) in constant shape-shifting movement, Cabeen's choreography — with its light-limbed elegance of line — deftly holds its own. Michael Cepress' costumes add to the flow and flair of the protean dance action.

Still, there are a couple of misfires. Susan Robb's inflatable sculptures don't seem worth the trouble, and a long pause midway through the show when no performer is onstage seems ill-advised.

Eventually Cabeen's fellow dancers, either aiding or impeding her progress, crack her Klein guise — and pure naked movement ensues. There's beauty here, and strength and grace. And you don't have to know a thing about Klein to succumb to its power.

Michael Upchurch:

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