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Review 1, 6-21: Upstaged and Trumped
Caines Reaches for the Stars and Falls just Short
Copyright 2005 Douglas Frank
NEW YORK -- Thursday's
premiere of "Tenebrae" by the Christopher Caines Dance Company at
Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church inspired awe -- thanks to
the magnificent music of Thomas Tallis -- and there's the rub. Other
aspects of the work -- Caines's choreography, dancing, costumes,
lighting -- paled (understandably) in the light and grandeur of
music by Tallis and its live performance.
"Tenebrae" was set to
three compositions by Tallis (c.1505-1585) -- one of the most influential
English composers of the Renaissance as well as today, aided by
the monopoly right granted to him and his famous student William
Byrd by Queen Elizabeth I in 1575 to print and publish vocal music
-- and included his magnum opus, "Spem in alium," an amazing a cappella
motet for 40 vocal parts. One of the greatest of great works, it
has mesmerized audiences in countless performances for nearly 500
years as a transformational star.
from Latin as "darkness" and also is a solemn service during Holy
Week in the Catholic Church -- lit by candles, extinguished one
by one. A kind of funeral service for the Christ, it recreates betrayal
and abandonment and ends in total darkness. The very bright lighting
design for "Tenebrae" seemed at odds with its title. Adding to the
challenge of achieving balance between the music and the visual
elements of this interdisciplinary creation was the captivating
performance of the 40 singers assembled by Robb Moss for the "Spem
in alium." With expert direction by conductor Kristina Boerger,
the ensemble delivered crystal-clear and glorious singing that all
but obliviated other elements of the work.
Now, Mr. Caines and
his dancers deserve a lot of credit for reaching for this star,
so this reviewer returned on Friday evening to try to focus on the
dance itself; it remained challenging. What was evident, however,
was that the choreography related far less superficially to the
music than, for example, many dances by Mark Morris. There were
no hands fluttering to trills in the music in this work -- a credit
to Mr. Caines that dance insiders surely can appreciate. Dancers
with arms held straight out to their sides were carried like human
crosses by other dancers. The company formed a cross in the center
of the church and each dancer raised one arm to the heavens in a
memorable moment. The dancers performed with tremendous heart and
intensity not equal to the celestial music by Tallis.
It's a good bet, however,
that even if the greatest dancers of all time (40 would be four
times as many as deployed in this "Tenebrae") were here working
with the best choreographer of all time (take your pick), the resulting
work would likely still reflect the final words of theTallis motet
-- "respice humilitatem nostram" -- "look (or gaze) upon our insignificance
/ unimportance / humiliation; commonplaceness; lowness (position/rank);
"Spem in alium" has
delighted (and humbled) about 20 generations of human beings, so
these dancers found themselves in good and plentiful company.
Also on the program
was Caines in "Stay" (2004). Dressed in white tails, he gracefully
stretched up and sank down in a pleasing homage to Isadora Duncan
set to music by Brahms, also performed live and with feeling by
pianist Marija Ilic; a dance-music pas de deux.
A great switch to a
group of Cabaret-style dances followed, "Can't Sleep" (2004-2005),
set to sophisticated music by William Bolcom (b.1938) and texts
by Arnold Weinstein. Ms. Ilic sustained the rewarding music, joined
by the singers Silvie Jensen (soprano) and Alan Reinhardt (baritone),
who sang from that deeper place that all singers and dancers seek
to tap into. The dancer Val Loukiano stood out from the company
with amazing arm and leg extensions and suppleness of torso, fully
realizing without words and through movement a deliciously devilish
character, Black Max. Another unique and funny piece of vocabulary
by Mr. Caines was making a 'dead man' walk -- having two male dancers
hold another up by his arms while kicking his legs forward one after
Carry on, Mr. Caines.
Employing musicians performing live music in this and all of your
work is a far more powerful thing than music emanating from speakers.
Your guts in taking on Tallis and experimenting, enhancing and refining
your brave and worthwhile endeavors deserve praise. Without artists
like you, we might wind up in a world with few options in dance-music-theater
other than those downtown dance blues and things like "Movin' Out"
-- and what an un-wonderful world that would be. Thank you for your
dedication and for offering a gratifying place beyond the scope
of so much of (that oxymoron) American culture.
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