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Catherine Cabeen Burns Hot in Fire

Catherine Cabeen Burns Hot in Fire

: Photo by Tim Summers.

Catherine Cabeen [DA ‘07] has been recognized as an emerging power in American dance; her newest work at On the Boards, Fire, provides fresh evidence.

PICTURE: Cabeen and company member in Fire; photo by Tim Summers, courtesy of On the Boards.

Catherine Cabeen rediscovered her career at Cornish, leaving in 2007 with a B.F.A. in dance and armed with an appreciation of science, the humanities and that special Cornish ingredient, collaboration. It’s what her troupe, Catherine Cabeen and Company (CCC) was founded on.  It was created, as CCC’s material states, “as a forum for investigating how interdisciplinary research and collaboration can be used to build new movement vocabularies.  Anchored in the choreographic work of Catherine Cabeen, CCC creates dynamic performances that engage the body as the intersection for ideas.”

The latest “intersection of ideas” is Cabeen’s work Fire, which played recently at Seattle’s new work engine On the Boards. Fire is the distillation and transformation of the work of French-American artist Niki de St. Phalle to dance and multimedia, the title referring to a series of Ms. Saint Phalle’s works in which gun fire was an integral part. What stands out about Cabeen’s approach to her piece is not just its stunning choreography but its fierce commitment to intellectual and interdisciplinary depth. In Christine Sumption’s article on Cabeen in Cornish’s Insight magazine, Changing the Path, Cornish Dance Department Chair Kitty Daniels says, “As a choreographer, her interest in collaborative and cross-disciplinary creation reflects her commitment to the deep inquiry and research that lies at the heart of all artistic exploration.’

On the Boards writes of Fire. “The career of visual artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002) was both joyful and troubled, peppered with complex depictions of child’s play, violence and femininity. Her assemblages finished with rifle shots and her monumental ‘Nanas’ sculptures of voluptuous female figures in motion, serve as inspiration for the whipsmart choreographer Catherine Cabeen as she continues her exploration of visual artists via dance. With four dancers and an ambitious group of collaborators by her side, including Susie J Lee, Connie Yun, Kane Mathis and Julian Martlew, Cabeen celebrates and investigates the life and art of this lauded yet controversial woman.”

The response to Cabeen’s new work has been positive.

“The dancing is beautiful, especially the duos between Karena Birk and Ella Mahler, the asymmetrical trio and duo groupings,” writes Omar Willey in Seattle Star, “and the solos of Ms. Cabeen herself, who is obviously one of the finest dancers in the country. Her choreography is brilliant as it explores possible combinations of the tarot-based imagery. The costumes are exquisite, each a subtle variation on the black web and the black stripes that underpin the stage imagery.”

Alice Kaderlan of agrees on the quality of Cabeen’s dancing. “Her extreme control of even the slightest muscles, from the tips of her toes to the top of her head, enables her to sculpt the space around her as though she is pushing her way through a mound of whipped cream.”

“In a clinging, full-skirted dress,” writes Seattle Metro, “Cabeen harkens back to her Martha Graham company training as she flows through heroic stances, with occasional hints of Hindu goddess or Egyptian queen.“


Catherine Cabeen previewed Fire in a lead in piece for On the Boards called Ready, Aim …  which is part dance and part monologue (embedded below). Says Seattle Star: “Ms. Cabeen performed a solo piece that intended to invoke the tactic of violence latent in de Saint Phalle’s shooting paintings, inviting the audience, too, to engage in violence against the dancer’s body by throwing multicolored pieces of paper at her.”

Below, a work by the artist who was the inspiration for Fire: Les tirs de Niki de St Phalle a concept piece by St Phalle. In it, Ms. St. Phalle, a self-described “terrorist in art” is seen with two associates shooting bullets into sculptural elements that contain bags of paint, the piece altering as the bullets tear through them. As one comment noted “Niki’s art became alive only after it had been ‘shot’. Amazingly powerful.”



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