Sunday, November 3, 2013

An introduction... or re-introduction!

In the interest of continuing to create context for both my work, this is how I introduced myself and Hyphen at the recent Maine International Conference on the Arts:

My name is Catherine Cabeen.  I am the Artistic Director of Hyphen, an interdisciplinary performance company that celebrates the dancing body as a fluid intersection for ideas.  I founded Hyphen in 2009 in Seattle as Catherine Cabeen and Company and changed the name recently in order to give the company a title that emulates is connective nature.  Hyphen has engaged 28 interdisciplinary artists in the creation of over 30 new performance works since 2009.

I am trained in the Martha Graham technique and I have a deep love for the theatrical grandeur of early modernist work.  However, I spent the bulk of my professional career dancing in the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, where I developed a love of honesty and transparency in performance.  My own work dances on the lines between these two polarizing aesthetics, celebrating both the kinesthetic virtuosity of the well trained dancing body and the politics inherent in using the body as a medium for expression.  My work often plays with gender representation because drag performances so eloquently reveal the grand performativity of everyday life.

I am in the midst of creating a trilogy of evening-length works that celebrate Nouveau réalisme (New realism) a post World War II, European, visual art movement, in which artists focused on new ways of perceiving and depicting reality as time, space, and action, rather than as a cluster of objects.  While in graduate school at the University of Washington, I became fascinated by this shift in the visual art world away from the tangible and towards the experiential.  As an artist who has always worked in the ephemeral form of dance, at first I found myself rolling my eyes at this supposed “eureka” moment.  Dancers and musicians have been celebrating experiential art forms for thousands of years.  But as I read the New Realist Manifesto and other articles by critic Pierre Restany that situate this artistic mission, I realized that this moment of confluence between the visual and performing arts actually provides a rich conglomeration of perspectives and language that supports my own articulation of just what it is we do as modern dancers.

It’s no secret that contemporary dance is the least funded and most commonly misunderstood of the arts.  The ever-increasing disembodiment of contemporary life has begun to fracture the former power of metakinesis; where audiences were once able to feel within their own bodies a resonance with what they saw on stage, they are often now so disconnected from their own bodies as to not recognize the movements they see before them as abstractions of a unifying human experience.  By borrowing from the new realists a renewed enthusiasm for the sensations of space, time, and change. I hope that my work will enliven dance for new audiences.

Into the Void, the first work in this series, premiered in 2011.  The work engaged 14 interdisciplinary collaborators in creating an abstract biographical work about Yves Klein, a French Visual Artist, who led the New Realist Art Movement in the 1960s. Into the Void was commissioned by On the Boards, a theater in Seattle, and the full work can be seen through On the Boards Television, OtB’s on-line performing arts archive, and Into the Void can also be purchased on iTunes via TenduTV.  

Into the Void was followed by Fire!  a second commission from On the Boards, in 2013.  Fire! was inspired by Niki de Saint Phalle, the only female artist in the New Realist movement.  This work engaged 13 interdisciplinary collaborators as it brought to life Saint Phalle's monumental Tarot Garden.  

Hyphen is now working on MetaKinetic, the third segment in this trilogy, which is inspired by the kinetic sculptures of Jean Tinguely.  MetaKinetic is so far being supported by On the Boards in Seattle and the Flynn Theater in Burlington and is scheduled to premier in 2016.

At the same time Hyphen continues to tour its ever-evolving repertory program.  The repertory program is extremely versatile in order to fit within a large range of venues and budgets.  The evening of diverse dance works can range from being a solo show, performed by myself, to an evening of duets and trios, to being a large scale production with five dancers and two live musicians.   All versions of the repertory program feature interdisciplinary collaborations between dance, music, writing, lighting and fashion design, and visual art. This variable programing makes performances possible in all kinds of spaces that have a range of technical capacities.  Always when I tour I am happy to teach associated classes, as are my collaborators. 

Hyphen recently performed a large scale version of its repertory program at Middlebury College.  We will next perform a more intimate iteration of the program at the Flynn Space in Burlington VT in the Fall of 2014, and we are looking for presenting partners to share iterations of that work throughout the region.  If any of you are interested in large scale productions I would also love to have conversations about additional presenting partners for MetaKinetic.

On behalf of all of the artists here I would like to thank the Maine International Conference on the Arts for giving us this opportunity to dialogue about our work, and our faith in art as an essential component of a human life well lived.

Thank you.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Embodied Education

I’m currently wrapping up teaching spring semester at Middlebury College.  As a freelance choreographer and dancer who is blessed right now to hold a temporary academic position, my mind frequently ricochets between the fortune of my temporary financial stability and the oppression of working for a private school that exemplifies the problematic American capitalist education system. 
Though I could easily dedicate this blog to the anger that arises in me from witnessing privilege, cloaked as education, I will instead focus it on what I learned this year from the subject matter I engaged in with my students.  For though the system is deeply flawed, individual students, conversations, and colleagues, continuously rose above the party line this spring and reminded me that education is on-going for all of us.

When the semester started I thought I was teaching 2 classes that would have little cross over; Anatomy/Kinesiology, and a course I designed called Ethics/Aesthetics/Body(I also taught advanced technique, choreographed a solo on a Sr  Dance Major, advised two Sr thesis projects, performed my own solo work locally and internationally, danced as a guest artist with Richard Move, and choreographed a few scenes for a film… but those experiences are for other blogs)

These two classes, one on how we feel, articulate, and move the gross matter of our bodies, and one on how we perceive, judge and value ourselves and each other, seemed highly oppositional when I made the syllabi.  The ethics course is deeply rooted in my graduate research into gender representation, which is a field that looks at everything one does as evidence of gender expression, but decidedly does not engage biology in the discussion.  Anatomy/Kinesiology is designed to explore the opposite, not what we do with our raced/gendered/(dis)abled bodies, but what we are; energy organized into mass, saturated with sensation, separated into muscles, bones, connective tissue, and systems with fancy names.

But as the semester wore on I noticed that while the readings and discussions may have been based in different disciplines, the point of the teaching was the same.  I kept coming back to one thing; what do you see or experience so regularly that it is invisible to you?  

In Anatomy/Kinesiology I found that many students had never considered their bodies except for on occasions when they were injured.  Most of them had no concept of the beauty and complexity of the physical systems they utilize everyday to get from bed to class.  All of us develop physical habits that simplify our mind/body connection. These habits can be extremely helpful or extremely detrimental to our well being, but unless we know what we are doing (from slouching, to always standing with our weight on our left leg, to grinding our teeth) and that there are other options, we cannot determine the number of choices we are denying ourselves.  It is impossible to see the value of our body’s intelligence when we are entirely attached to the way we have patterned our selves through repetition

Repetition is also what transforms our various gender performances into our sense of self.  Repetition of the practice of confidence or victimization creates our personality and our concept of our role in the world.  Culture’s repetitions in the form of mass-media-marketing-strategies, capitalist government systems that support a particular family structure, and the on-going struggle for equal wages for equal work among different classes, genders, nationalities and races of people, create assumptions for all of us within a system of, “the way things are.”  Unconsciously, we fit ourselves into these systems and pattern ourselves in line with, or against their standards.  In this value-laden conception of self, we again cannot determine the value of our heart’s intelligence, and/or our attachments to the way we have patterned our selves through both conscious and unconscious repetition, until we can see that our habits are actually choices. 

Frequently in my years of teaching dance related subjects, I have found that the best of what I have to offer the students I work with comes from my 18-year (and counting) study of vinyasa yoga.  This semester proved to be no exception, in fact Hinduism, Buddhism and Yoga even have a single word for this shockingly interdisciplinary habitual body/mind; Samskara. 

Samskara defines physical and mental patterning as not only the product of this lifetime, but a response to the accumulation of multiple lifetimes of habit building.  Whether or not you believe in reincarnation, the habits of multiple lifetimes are surely what create the cultural/social traditions that enmesh, condition and define us.  Samskara explains how the habits of consciousness we develop in this lifetime, which manifest as our physical posture, intertwine with cultural, raced, gendered, classed memory causing our bodies and minds to be subjected to infinitely more unconscious instructions than conscious ones.

Whether we are talking about tucking our pelvis under as a weakness in our lower back and strain on our hip flexors, or a conditioned response to being told that our butt is too big to be in a certain kind of dance class, we are talking about a detrimental physical/mental habit that the practitioner needs to become aware of, before they can respond to it in a healthy way.  If the realization of pelvic miss-alignment comes through a conversation about the relationship between the curved sacrum and pelvis or an articulation of the lingering Western European dominance in popular dance and marketing aesthetics, it doesn’t really matter.  What the student needs to do is to pause their habitual reactions to what they are experiencing long enough to actually feel their own pelvis.  Where is it right now?

Why am I doing what I am doing?” is an excellent question, but useless, unless one first knows what they are doing and that, more often than not, it is a choice.

One cannot make a change unless one knows where one is to begin with.  That requires listening, feeling, and not holding on so tightly to what you think you know that you cannot see that, "you are a victim of the rules you live by." (Jenny Holzer). 

Our embodied experience is contextual and always in motion.  The body's inescapability as our main sensory means of experiencing the world we live in, and its constant state of change, can teach us that mental constructs such as Right/Wrong, Good/Bad, Beautiful/Ugly are also contextual concepts. 

It is interesting to teach in a liberal arts institution.  There are a lot of ideas bouncing around.  But in terms of giving the students an opportunity to actually learn something, I am increasingly grateful that I teach an embodied discipline... mostly so that I don't need to justify teaching meditation.   All this liberal arts education is pretty useless with out enough space in it for students to occasionally pause and witness the journey they are on. It is through this understanding, that we are all changing constantly, and that all of life is a process, that students will be able to manifest their own power to contribute to/conduct that flow. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013


I've been called a great many things.  Labels help us to define our experiences, and at the same time they limit our growth. Names and Labels reek of our human desire to hold fast to our understanding of something, in a world that is in constant motion. 

I founded Catherine Cabeen and Company (CCC) in 2009, to explore how interdisciplinary research and collaboration can be used to build new movement vocabularies.   

In the last four years CCC has engaged 30 interdisciplinary artists and created over 22 collaborative works. 
Catherine Cabeen in Fire!
photo by Phill Cabeen

But as my base shifts from the west to east coast and the collaborations I engage in reorient their dynamics, I find that "Catherine Cabeen and Company" is not a name that supports the integration of dance and ideas that I am after.  

So, CCC is now becoming Hyphen.

The mission is the same, and hopefully this name will help us to move forward as an entity based in connection.  

Hyphen, as what we need to "co-exist," or make a "well-thought-out-plan." 

Catherine Cabeen - Hyphen is starting a new relationship with New York Live Arts as an Associate Artist and is held under their 501c3 Umbrella.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

by Rodrigo Valenzuela
"It's not a line.
It's not a story.
There's nothing to get.
I don't have all the answers.
Every time I think I have it, the cards are shuffled again.
Archetypes in motion.

The airy High Priestess
The lush Empress
Eve, the original femme fatale,

When you woke up this morning, 
which one did you see in the mirror?

Which one did you want to see?

What are you willing to do 
to bring her to the surface?

And what if she doesn't come?
Who are you then?
Shuffle the cards.

The devil laughs at the chains we struggle against 
because he knows we forged them ourselves.
We land on a self image and consume ourselves daily 
in its perpetual reconstruction.
The cards shuffle again.

What does it mean to be strong?
Is it about will, force, power, domination...
Or is it about having the courage to do something crazy, 
just because we think it might make us happy?

by Phill Cabeen
We are in this together.

Treading water in a sea of integrity and illusion.

Riding waves of black and white, man and women, butch and fem, top and bottom, play and violence, personal and political, fear and desire, beauty and effort, obsession and love.

We dance to create a shore where these duality's are recognized to be two sides of the same coin.
Turn the card over again.
Me and you are not mutually exclusive.
We are in this together."

This text opened Fire! last weekend and interestingly the reviews of the work carried the same dualistic contradictions that the work itself was wrestling with.   
The Seattle Times called the work, “cool... beautiful” and  “sharply focused,” while the Sunbreak called it a “loose baggy monster”
Crosscut called the work, “an engrossing feast for the senses.
… a mysterious, wondrous universe that won’t be soon forgotten.”
While SeattleDances argued it was “not dramatic enough to be very remarkable.”
Jen Graves SLOG generously suggested you "run, not walk" to get your tickets but then in the same paragraph claims the work is both lacking in clarity and overly literal.
The Seattle Star calls the work, “brilliant” and “exquisite,” but
“Unresolved” while City Arts concludes that lack of resolution is a virtue, “Fire! presents a picture of women—independent, trapped, escaping, congregating—in a way that is esoteric. Why are they doing this? Where is it going? What’s the end result? Even that is open-ended. But perhaps we aren’t supposed to walk away with hard and fast conclusions. Perhaps we can just appreciate the dance for what it is—beautiful, expressive, emotional movement; a form of art where the body is both the means and the end.”

Personally, I agree with Dance Scholar Susan Manning that,
“The more contentious the conversation the more interesting…” so I am thrilled with the contradictions.  I am glad that CCC and OtB gave Seattle audiences something to talk about, whether they raved about the show- or it made them raving mad. 

As we move on into our next projects, everyone in CCC is stimulated by the questions Fire! revealed about answers we thought we knew...

Ironically, the one thing the reviews seem to agree on is that my performance quality was "distractingly compelling."  Many reviews claimed they couldn't look at the work as a whole because I so dominated the scene.  I have loved dance with all of my heart, for all of my life.  I'm glad the fruits of my efforts show to most people, however, these comments are also oddly offensive in this context.  When I started researching Niki de Saint Phalle, I was struck by how the reviews of her early shows were all about her physical presence, costume, body type... and barely about her work.  Perhaps my greatest nod to her in this work is not through the production at all, but rather through how it was perceived- as something that's worth, due to it being made by a female artist, lies only in the beauty of its maker. Saint Phalle banked on that- perhaps I do too- only I am conflicted by my consciousness of it being problematic.

"The male gaze theory forces the feminist dance scholar into a no-win situation that turns on an exceedingly unproductive "succeed or fail" criterion.  We expect the choreographer to topple a power structure that we have theorized as monolithic.  The dancer or choreographer under consideration will always be condemned as a reinforcement of the patriarchal status quo, despite any transgressive behavior, because, by definition, that which is communicated arises from within the fabric of culture, that is to say, within patriarchy." -Ann Daly 1992

The reason I do these projects that look back into history, is unfortunately, sometimes, to point out how little has changed.