Sunday, June 22, 2008

Christopher Caines Dance

Breaking free from work work for a brief moment this afternoon, I got to see a performance by Christopher Caines Dance Company that I was asked to review for Exploredance and that was suggested to me by Philip.

I was not thrilled with the venue (the same place they host Jazz at Lincoln Center...not a dance place by any means...)but overall it was a nice afternoon. Full review below, which should be up on exploredance soon. I'm so backed up on other reviews but I'm forcing myself to get them done this week!

Before the start of Christopher Caines Dance Company’s performance of “Spirits,” the director asked a favor of the audience. In the transition to the last piece we were to close our eyes. Blackout. Then open them slowly to create the effect of lights going up. Unfortunately this game of pretend didn’t serve to improve the mediocre program held at the Frederick P. Rose Hall.

The space, which usually hosts Jazz at Lincoln Center and music events, might be much to blame. Tables and chairs set up cabaret style don’t exactly scream concert dance. The hardwood floor great for acoustics does little for dancers on pointe (though these dancers managed to work through their Gaynor Minden shoes quite successfully). And the limited technical options – work lights only on or off, a black barricade as the single wing – certainly don’t compare to even the smallest of New York dance theaters.

Yet the 8-year old company made due with what they had. Their mission is to “explore, experiment with, and celebrate great music through dancing,” and if nothing else the program lived up to this with live accompaniment, a luxury few chamber-size groups have. In fact, “Spirits” was dedicated to a mezzo-soprano, Alexandra Montano, who sang with the company until her death last year. Through six dancing “toasts” Caines paid homage to his former artistic companion and to his current team of outstanding musicians who make the show worthwhile (Silvie Jensen, mezzo-soprano on Sunday, was particularly lovely).

“Slivovice” popped the cork of the celebration with little bubbling excitement. A quartet turned into short pas de deuxs with tender moments between the couples, but little was memorable. Gisella Quinteros held a particularly long attitude balance that radiated in her face moments later. That genuine emotion was otherwise absent from all.

“Water of Life” looked optimistic as the charming Michelle Vargo slowly stepped into the preceding dance, her dark hair and fire red dress making her so sleek. Again, though, there was much to be desired. Mid-dance an elderly couple walked slowly down stage right. Periodically the woman (a nimble Rika Burnham) would faint into the man’s arms (Ammon Dennis). Later, Vargo lied as a corpse, arms folded a la Giselle, and was lifted by her three partners.

“Cognac” was only brightened by a brief solo for Edgar Peterson. His lyricism stuck out in an otherwise raw-looking cast (seasoned as some may be on paper).

Caines seemed to try to induce humor with “Absinthe.” Yet it was hard to see why much of the audience obliged with laughter. Jamy Hsu and Justin Wingenroth engaged in a quasi-rehearsal duet. They danced, got tired, and stopped. They knocked each other over. She danced and fell repeatedly into his arms off a lime green table (an eye sore in an already muddled costume choice: she in a deep green dress, he in gray tight shorts and a t-shirt). It’s as if they were making fun of dancing through cheesy kick lines and hopping high fives.

The sobering “Water and Salt” finally offered something more. Set to music by Meredith Monk, the piece showed Vargo struggling center stage. To her right the elderly couple seen earlier waltzed, and to her left two children (Amelia and Olivia Pinney, both adorable and admirably disciplined) imitated, though not directly. One young girl fell into the other’s arms, fainting as her older counterpart did before. The contrast of age, of life and death, of experience and innocence, seemed to be what Caines was aiming for all along.

To close the evening was the “Champagne” toast, a visually stunning work highly welcomed after the previous pieces. Men in tuxedos partnered the women, who each wore a different style bright yellow evening dress. Here was the celebration we had been waiting for. Perhaps with a better facility and some technical improvements we could dance with them all night.

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