Seattle choreographer Catherine Cabeen puts the emphasis on collaboration in five often-dazzling new works at Velocity Dance Center. Of note is her collaboration with oud player Kane Mathis.

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Performance review |

There aren’t many pleasures to equal watching dancer Catherine Cabeen in performance with musician Kane Mathis.

For one thing, she doesn’t just move to the music he plays. In “5 Windows,” she attaches herself to him, balancing against him and all but perching on top of him at times — this, while Mathis dazzles the audience with a virtuoso performance on the oud.

His suite for the Middle Eastern instrument in “5 Windows” would be a spellbinder just by itself. So it’s especially impressive that he pulls it off while keeping meaningful eye contact with Cabeen and offering an occasional hand to her. From moment to moment, it’s almost as if he’s feeding movements to her through the sound he produces (a post-show discussion revealed this is close to the literal truth). Their interaction feels as intricate as waves and winds playing off each other.

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“5 Windows” is the opener in an evening of short works by Catherine Cabeen and Company, and it’s in fine company. “Hyphen” is the overall name Cabeen gives these small-scale collaborations, and four out of five pieces in this year’s edition, “Hyphen 2012,” are brand-new.

The fifth, “Composites,” is a 2010 solo that Cabeen set on herself to a text-filled sound-collage by composer Julian Martlew and writer Jay McAleer. The twist here: Cabeen devised a “phonetic movement vocabulary” that corresponds to the sounds of McAleer’s words. Her flickers, darts and languid droops have their counterpart in his uttered syllables. Both add up to a language-rhythmed dance that skitters precisely between a range of moods and attitudes, from aggression to invitation. Throughout “5 Windows” and “Composites,” Cabeen’s precise yet fluid articulation of her hips, torso, shoulders, limbs and digits “reads” like the most cadenced, seductive prose, full of bright imagery and subtle repartee.

Indeed, her choreography is so tightly bound with her own solo dance prowess (she was formerly with Martha Graham Dance Company and Bill T. Jones) that the biggest surprise of the evening was “All of the Above,” a quartet she set on four female performers.

To a chiming electronic score by Nat Evans and Ross Simonini, dancers Karena Birk, Brenna Monroe-Cook, Ella Mahler and Sarah Lustbader became a sort of fluid machine of limbs that kept coupling and uncoupling from itself. As symmetries and asymmetries dovetailed, the dancers’ bright costumes (swathes of primary colors) enhanced the kaleidoscopic effect. “All of the Above” shows Cabeen inventively stretching her dance-making talents.

Another new piece, “On the Way Out,” was a curious experiment in which soloist Lustbader could be seen only through a doorway, moving to Mathis’ music (this time on the kora, an African harp). Even when Lustbader slipped out of sight for seconds at a time, her shadow stayed visibly in play. The concept was more beguiling than the actual event, although Mathis’ playing, again, was all you needed.

The show closed with “Gravitas,” in which dancer Birk and trumpeter Brian Chin circled each other while moving/playing to a thump-filled electronic score by Chad McCullough. Chin’s improvisations weren’t as seamless or assured as Mathis’ work. But an impressive Birk, drawing more on a ballet vocabulary in the piece Cabeen crafted for her, was a deft and gamboling spirit.

Adding to the alchemy in four out of five pieces was Amiya Brown’s subtle lighting, which moved almost like a member of the company as it shaded the action onstage.

Michael Upchurch:

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