Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre

June 14, 2005

Pascal Rioult and Penelope Gonzalez in
Kansas City Orfeo.
Photo by Basil Childers

Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre
Joyce Theater, New York, NY

June 14–19, 2005

Reviewed by Susan Yung


Choreographers seem to turn to Stravinsky’s music as if it were a fountain of youth. Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre’s June program featured the premiere of Les Noces and a reprise of last year’s Firebird, both set to Stravinsky, in addition to an excerpt of Kansas City Orfeo, set to jazz. Choreographer Rioult hewed to the basic story lines, infusing them with his neo-Graham vocabulary and theatrical flourishes.

Les Noces
followed four couples’ wedding-day preparations, but it could’ve been the buildup to a big game or battle. Clad in undies, the women donned petticoats, corsets, and finally skeletal hoop skirts that hung in oyster shell shapes upstage; the men put on the tuxes that had shadowed them like specters. Wielding burgeoning power, the women shifted from innocents to seductive minxes by unfurling tightly clamped legs into wide splits. The men floated their legs over a row of chairs, retracing lines forward and backward. A couple crouched, one above the other, elbows jutting up sharply like a praying mantis. The dynamic score gave this momentous yet still quotidian occasion a solemn power.

Kansas City Orfeo
(to premiere in 2006) underscored the importance of music to Rioult with a live ensemble playing songs by Ellington, Count Basie, and others, alternating with recorded bits by C.W. von Glück. Guest artist Carlos Molina, a Boston Ballet principal, aired out some big ballet stuff as young Orfeo, perhaps to signify old-fashioned morals during the Prohibition. But it stuck out as a bit of choreographic showboating in contrast to the affected jazz style performed by the others. Penelope Gonzalez, who portrayed Eurydice, may be an explosive dancer, but she lacked any convincing allure in this role. Rioult cameoed as the older Orfeo, wielding dramatic force with minimal movement.

Firebird made the program overly long and diluted the impact of Rioult’s choreography. But the vision of Hannah Burnette Cullen—the face of hope and innocence, who skipped about like the child she is—drew strong contrast to Rioult’s deliberate, intentionally tortured vocabulary, which is apparently reserved for adults.

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