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Christopher Caines Dance Co. Celebrates With "Spirits"

by Taylor Gordon
June 22, 2008
Frederick P. Rose Hall
Time/Warner Center
Columbus Circle
33 West 60th Lobby (entrance)
5th Floor (Theater)
New York, NY 10023
(212) 258-9500
www.taylorgordononline.com

www.christophercainesdance.org
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 program, which displayed a mix of sections that didn't work, sections that showed potential and sections where the work was visually stunning. The performance was held at the Frederick P. Rose Hall.

The space, which usually hosts Jazz at Lincoln Center and music events, might be much to blame for the portions of the program that felt mediocre. Tables and chairs set up cabaret style don't exactly scream concert dance. The hardwood floor, while great for acoustics, does little for dancers on pointe (though these dancers managed to work through their Gaynor Minden shoes rather 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 do 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 tribute 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.
Andrew Griffin and Jacqueline McConnell in 'Cognac'

Andrew Griffin and Jacqueline McConnell in "Cognac"

Photo © & courtesy of Andrew Clearfield


Edgar Peterson in 'Cognac' (Gabriel Faure)

Edgar Peterson in "Cognac" (Gabriel Faure)

Photo © & courtesy of Andrew Clearfield


Michelle Vargo in 'Water of Life' (Traditional Scots Gaelic Songs)

Michelle Vargo in "Water of Life" (Traditional Scots Gaelic Songs)

Photo © & courtesy of Chris Woltmann

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