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The Cabiri defies definition

Cat people fly at Cornish Playhouse.
Cat people fly at Cornish Playhouse.
TEWAZ, photo by David Rose Photography

Defining where The Cabiri falls in Seattle’s performing arts community is hard even for members of the company.

“We’re more like a dance company, but we don’t bill ourselves as dance company because we’re not that,” said Charly McCreary, Cabiri’s managing director. “Most of our artists have dance or acrobatic background. We have an artist who specializes in video work and creates projections for us.”

Sometimes they're labeled "physical theatre" and other times "purveyors of performative mythology." But whether it is dance, performance art, or theater, the company has been pushing and blurring boundaries for fourteen seasons.

The Cabiri’s current project is the highly ambitious TEA trilogy, which “tells a story about angels, but not angels as you know them,” according to founder and artistic director John Murphy. “It’s really a mytheme (essential kernel of a myth), rather than a particular story. ‘TEWAZ,’ the first part of TEA, explores the phenomenon that is present throughout folklore where the terrestrial experience meets with celestial experience. When did we quit looking horizontally and start looking up? We’re grappling with this. It is one of the biggest questions as far as I’m concerned. Now I feel that I have the people who can do it and this is the time. It’s a tremendous production, very large in scope.”

In “TEWAZ,” Sam Alvarez, Erin Nicole Boyt, and the artists created a tribe of leopard shapeshifters, elder races of angels, and vulture-humans through movement that often takes place above the stage.

“The Cabiri started exploring aerial work in late 1990s,” explained McCreary, who portrays the title character of Tewaz. “At the time, it was very experimental and exploratory. Now it is much more common, but what we do is really different. We’re making it theatrical and telling a concrete story.”

McCreary expects the current show to draw adventurous audiences who like mythology, other cultures, stories, and travel. “You get a sense of other times,” she said. “It’s going to appeal to people who love spectacle, contemporary dance, or contemporary modern circus, even though we don’t like using that last word.”

The current production has three Taiko drummers on stage, a two-person puppet that serves as a launching pad for some of the acrobatics, a large inflatable tumbling surface, and various apparatus that takes many performers into the higher reaches of the house.

Alvarez’s former Cirque du Soleil collaborator Marshall Garfield provided the artistic direction, the lighting is by Seattle Opera’s Connie Yun, and Constantin Parvelescu composed the original score for “TEWAZ.”

“Watching the run-throughs, I get goosebumps,” said McCreary.

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“TEWAZ” opened tonight (June 6) at Cornish Playhouse, Seattle Center. Four more performances will take place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through June 14. Tickets are available through brownpapertickets.com.