This weekend at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall, the Christopher Caines Dance Company presented Spirits, a full-length work consisting of several intimate dances. Although I originally thought that the title referred to ghosts (especially because the work is dedicated to the memory of a close friend and colleague of Artistic Director Christopher Caines), the names of each section indicated otherwise: “Slivovice”, “Water of Life”, “Cognac”, “Absinthe”, “Water and Salt”, and “Champagne”. Caines chose a diverse collection of music for each section, ranging from traditional Gaelic songs, to classic songs by Gabriel Fauré, to solo vocal pieces by Meredith Monk.
Many of the sections meandered from one moment to the next, without ever really getting anywhere, and together, they did not feel like an organic whole. The fourth section, in particular, was so goofy and quirky that it seemed out of place with the rest of the ballet, which was mostly serious, meditative, and poignant. In addition, moments of showiness (such as a string of fouettés center stage or a leg extension at the very end of a section, which lacked purpose) undermined the depth and artistry of the piece. Although some of the dancers had beautiful lines, others were technically weak and had poor stage presence. Michelle Vargo was one of the more appealing dancers to watch, but she had the same pained facial expression throughout the performance, so that by the end of the piece, it lost its effect. Spirits is a deeply personal work for Mr. Caines. He did not fully convey the emotions and memories that are woven into the fabric of this ballet, but perhaps it was not his intention to do so.
Unfortunately, the venue was ill-suited for a ballet performance. The other audience members and I sat at circular tables – cabaret-style – while the dancers used the small space as best they could, and exited and entered from doorways at the side and back of the room. It was disappointing to see the dancers lit in the same bright light throughout the performance. The space is not equipped with stage lighting nor does it offer space to hang sets and scenery. I think the piece would have benefited greatly – and would have had a very different effect – from stage lighting to alter the mood in each section. The dancers’ pointe shoes sounded very noisy on the wood floor, and I imagine it was challenging for them to dance “full out” without slipping. Of course, none of these problems are the dancers’ fault. Hopefully the company will have many future opportunities to perform in venues that underscore their qualities and potential.