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Catherine Cabeen Goes ‘Into the Void’

Inspired by French painter Yves Klein, the choreographer’s new work is a "painting in time and space."

By Laura Dannen April 28, 2011

Photo: Michael Clinard.

Catherine Cabeen creates “a painting in time and space” with her new dance Into the Void at On the Boards.

When I spoke to choreographer Catherine Cabeen this winter, she already had a blueprint for her world-premiere performance this weekend at On the Boards. Emphasis on the “blue.” Into the Void is dance-theater inspired by the artwork of postmodern painter Yves Klein, who patented a brilliant shade called International Klein Blue [IKB] and employed naked woman as living paintbrushes. Cabeen, a feminist scholar, is less interested in having women roll around in toxic paint and more in the metaphor.

Why Yves Klein?

I first saw Klein’s work when I was a child. My mother is a visual artist so I grew up going to contemporary art museums all over the world… Klein found that, when he would paint a surface, it would be really shiny and luminous and beautiful, but as it would dry, it would become extremely matte. It would lose its excitement. So he figured out a chemical process to suspend aquamarine blue pigment in a sort of resin, which meant that when it dried, it stayed just as luminous. The color is really striking. I always really enjoyed that, and when I found out how it was made, I got excited by the metaphor that exists within it: because by suspending the pigment in the resin, he keeps each grain of pigment whole. One color made up of a million individual tiny parts, and that’s very much what I’m interested in in my dance company. I want to create a whole evening’s-length work that is one cohesive piece, but I’m interested in working with dancers who are very strong and powerful individuals, and also with other collaborators [an installation artist, digital media artist, and kora player among them] who are strong and powerful individuals. I don’t want to approach the choreographic process in the way paint is traditionally made: to grind up the pigment into a powder and dissolve it in oil. I would like to create a whole where each piece is its own individual whole.

Paint a picture of the opening of Into the Void.

A completely empty space. Klein had a very famous installation called The Void where he literally whitewashed a whole gallery and advertised this event so well that 3,000 people showed up to see nothing. In his mind, in his words, they were coming to see a positive energy which he had infused the space with, but some cynics saw nothing. So I’ve really been thinking about the idea of emptiness.

There will be a white floor that runs under the feet of the first row of the audience to the back wall, and then straight up the back wall. Sort of like a photographer’s seamless paper, so there will be this clear space in the middle. To either side of that, the space will be draped in black, so the central void will also hopefully be a gateway or door.

One of the reasons we’re using the white floor and backdrop is that we want to really saturate the space with an approximation of IKB. The lighting and digital media artists are experimenting with that color, and there will be three dancers who will use their painted bodies to dance. To create a painting in time and space.

Into the Void is at On the Boards from Apr 28–30.

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