In the past years, we’ve seen Kat Cunning on the stage with Company XIV singing Lana del Rey’s songs better than Lana del Rey, in high-octane Broadway productions (Paramour; Les Liaisons Dangereuses) and on cable (The Deuce, where she plays a recurring character). What’s more, her first EP might (finally!) be on the way
As if she needed to add to her resume, on November 8, she’ll make her co-directorial debut in CNTRL, a circus-musical performance co-created with House of Yes’ own Anya Sapozhnikova, also starring nine core performers and five extras. A spin on Sleeping Beauty, CNTRL focuses on the power dynamics, the sexuality and the darker aspects of the fairy tale, with Cunning in the leading role. “Control is the word that kept coming up when I was talking about the characters’ power dynamics, and their sexualities, as a reference to power play,” Cunning told Bedford + Bowery. “The word comes up to me as a human when I am working, being a control freak.”
Originally a dancer by training—she holds a BFA– she wrote poems when she was young and made her friends reenact scenes from plays. “I always called myself a storyteller, and as the basis of this craft, my main goal is to be in control of how people feel and give them an experience that allows them to feel something with me,” she told us.
Cunning and House of Yes have had an artistic relationship for the last couple of years, since they both come from the nightlife and high-art scenes. Cunning has performed in several of their events, and she credits Sapozhnikova for pushing her in her performances. For example, she recalls being asked once “I thought it would be really great if you did this coming down from the ceiling; you’re not scared of heights, right?” for a performance Even though she was, she went for it anyway. “House of Yes really pushed me to do things that I am afraid to do; the only way that you can convince me to do anything is if it’s connected to performing, and if I have a story to tell,” Cunning said.
Sleeping Beauty was the first classical ballet she performed in a leading role at the age of 18. “The parts that really resonated with me were when I pierced my finger and I got to act the drama of that,” she said. “That was a foreshadowing moment to what dance would come to mean to me, in the way music and acting would emerge in dancing.”
The songs performed in CNTRL are all Cunning’s originals, with some that have already been released and/or performed, and others that were written specifically for the show. “Some songs have the narrative of Sleeping Beauty in them, and the more theatrical ability to flesh out the set also dictates which songs are chosen,” she said. “Some of the songs that will be in this set will be more intimate than many intimate songs I would put in a straight concert, because [at House of Yes] I have so many more theatrical devices at my fingertips to make it more digestible to do that.”
Cunning’s favorite fairytale is actually The Wizard of Oz, but after devoting her song (and music video) “Wild Poppies,” to it, she feels momentarily oversaturated by it. “I am not ready to delve deeply into it until I have a gigantic budget,” she said. I am so obsessed with it that I cannot even touch it yet.”
Why one night only for CNTRL, though? Even her collaborators were pushing for three nights, because they are setting up such a huge world that will be torn down the next day. “I wanted to make it an event; I want to make it really epic and then come back with a more fleshed-out version,” she explained. “There’s always so much to learn.”
“CNTRL,” Nov. 8 at House of Yes; tickets $20-$60.