Joyce Theater, NYC
January 19–24, 2010
Reviewed by Susan Yung
Shadow Box. Photo by Richard Termine, courtesy Rioult.
Rioult’s two programs showed the pitfalls and opportunities facing a company of its modest size—nine dancers—and relatively large ambition. Four works (including two premieres) comprised a satisfying repertory program; a reprise of last year’s evening-length The Great Mass balanced the week. Artistic director Pascal Rioult performed with the Martha Graham Dance Company and, since founding his own troupe in 1994, has created an oeuvre with a theatrical emphasis. His style is a brand of barefoot ballet—mostly classical until the movement hits the wrists, which flick and bend in rebellion, breaking the flow of energy.
The two premieres, both set to Bach played live, complemented one another. Shadow Box was a largely formal exercise in which projections and silhouettes played a prominent role with the featured solo or pair of dancers. Half white, half black costumes accentuated the positive/negative theme. A projected dancer in arabesque blended into her live doppelganger; a dancer lying down performed movements seen upright onscreen. The work was based on a modestly interesting concept, but in practice it felt flat and recalled precedents, foremost the multimedia experiments of Alwin Nikolais. City was its colorful counterpart, with eye-popping skyscraper projections (designed, like those for Shadow Box, by Brian Clifford Beasley). Lively duets and quartets evoked the bustling dynamic of the street scene , depicted at the beginning and end.
The repertory program was completed by Harvest (1992) and Bolero (2002). Both dances exemplify what Rioult does well. In Harvest, the choreographer drew on functional gestures inspired by the title’s rituals, like scything and threshing. Crisp, golden lighting by David Finley and stylized peasant garb by Karen Young evoked the paintings of Millet. In Bolero, Rioult juxtaposed expressionistic solos with the ensemble’s rectilinear machinations. The piece showed off the company’s precision and technical polish and provided a strong finale to this mixed slate.
The Great Mass
, on the other hand, revealed certain weaknesses. Rioult tends to illustrate the music—in this case, Mozart’s Mass in C Minor. His vocabulary, when not gestural, feels repetitive. Perhaps most egregious here was the choice of Mozart’s mass, which is difficult to match either musically or dramatically. The dancers were left merely tracing the emotions of the mass’s lyrical or narrative themes, to lightweight effect, and that’s less than what this small but accomplished troupe is capable of.