Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre

June 12, 2007

Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre

The Joyce Theater, NYC

June 12–17, 2007

Reviewed by Susan Yung

This company presented two premieres, both serious yet different approaches to Rioult’s stylized modern movement. Rioult likes to play with conventions of the theater, although some felt familiar. In EXP #1, the dancers treated a cross-stage shaft of light (by David Finley) like a stream into which they dipped limbs. Literally and figuratively spotlit, Marcus Jarrell Willis twitched his fingers, abs, legs, and other body parts with a machine-like precision. Darkness played a significant part in the work’s cadence, with blackouts dividing episodes. A woman appeared to hover as her lifting partner hid, shrouded in shadow. Penelope Gonzalez’s slow-paced solo evoked Martha Graham with its pliant expression and visceral intensity. In the dark, Willis darted from one area to another until the light found him, recalling David Parsons’ Caught. The spotlight then searched the stage for him, with mock frenzy. The insertion of some brief scenes added an interesting twist to the pacing; nonetheless, the piece felt long. The music alternated between Autechre’s synthesized pop rhythms and Bach.

    The second premiere was Symphony of Psalms, which took its name from the un-dancey music by Stravinsky, whose music remains a perpetual magnet for Rioult. Liturgical motifs—manifested in peaked arch lighting patterns and  leotards partitioned like stained glass—lent a cohesion and passion to the work, but also a ponderousness. A sense of growing urgency fueled the dancers’ movements, which began with a pediment-worthy tableaux. Four pairs repeated a fugue in canon; the men cleverly carried their partners like cruciforms, and then like backpacks, the womens’ legs neatly folded. The pace quickened with rapid-fire diagonal stage sequences, and the dancers’ narrow misses added drama. While Graham’s root influence is most easily discerned in Rioult’s vocabulary, whiffs of other modern “branches” (Horton, Nikolais, Taylor) were present.

    Also on the program were two lighter, if less satisfying, works: If By Chance, whose alternately classical and jazzy inflections mirrored Jacques Loussier’s playful interpretation of Mozart. While the company handled the shifts in technique just fine, the impulse felt false, and their cheerfulness forced. A work in progress performed on the company’s gala night, A Waltz for Lee, featured a cameo by Rioult, who stolidly partnered Gonzalez in ballroom whirls. Another couple reflected youth and passion, seen not just in her shorter dress and their barefeet, but in a more physical interpretation of the dance.