Pascal Rioult Dance Theater
"If By Chance," "Exp #1," Black Diamond," "Symphony of Psalms"
The Joyce Theater
New York, NY
June 14, 2007

by Lisa Rinehart
copyright © 2007 by Lisa Rinehart

True to his mentor, Martha Graham, Pascal Rioult is fond of freighting iconic musical compositions with rippling musculature and sententious gesture. Unlike Graham, however, he's not so good at it. Even for the Joyce Theater, New York's current temple of mediocrity in dance, Rioult's program is a forced march from the mildly enjoyable to the truly bad. This is partly because of worrisome musical choices that range from jazzified Mozart and synthesized Bach to Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms — a piece of music that should probably never be danced to. But mostly, it's because Rioult chooses to parade regiments of dance cliches through every piece. Not just signature Graham moves like the swastika jump and the gliding running step, but conventions musty as the pregnant pause before the whirl of movement, and the oh-so-potent sharply raised arm evoking wistful longing. Even the dewiest dance watcher has seen these bits better utilized. Rioult wants to be trenchant, but hasn't found a choreographic voice to match his ambitions and the dances feel forced.

"If By Chance," set to Mozart's Piano Concerto #23 as subjected to the jazz stylings of Jacques Loussier, is the lightest and most successful piece of the four. Pilar Limosner's stripy tops, bared midriffs and flouncing yellow skirts with red and burgundy under layers for the women capture the dance's preternatural sunniness, as well as adding some welcome sophistication. The dancers give Rioult's percussive lifts, runs and abrupt stops the hard sell, punching their way through the movement and throwing knowing glances at one another, but it's pretty predictable stuff. During the straight forward Mozart, the arms go up in the Graham "hands above the head, this is a stick up" style while the jazzy parts get swizzle hips and carefree leaps. Pleasant enough.

Rioult goes isometric with "Exp #1," a dark clutter of ideas focusing on body parts effectively dismembered by David Finley's overly complicated lighting, and set to electronic music by Autechre and Bach. The savior of the piece is company newcomer, Marcus Jarrell Willis, who, given his exquisite physique and raw power, is impressively subtle and refined. Every muscle twitch of Willis' bare torso is visible when a rolling movement of the head sends a ripple down the spine and jiggles into the fingertips like tiny droplets of water shaken from an animal's fur. He is refreshingly contained in his exploration of the upper body, however, and thankfully, doesn't broadcast wonder with himself. The modesty makes him all the more compelling. In contrast, Penelope Gonzalez, Rioult's longtime muse, is curiously bug like, but not very engaging in her study of the lower extremities. Willis is a hard act to follow, and the rest of the piece is dancers jogging in and out of spotlights, but nothing catches up with Willis' solo moments.

With the exception of Willis, a company tendency for self conscious regard bedevils "Black Diamond," Rioult's "poem" for two women set to Stravinsky's Duo Concertant. Posy Knight and Gonzalez, encased in black mesh, stand provocatively on two large pedestals and stare at the audience as if challenging us to register their less than perfect lines. Stravinsky's glorious music is reduced to big squats in second position, wiggling hips and repeated leg extensions that fail to impress. The final image of the women backlit on their pedestals, one arm wrapped behind the head and legs drawn together in a demure pin up pose is predictable enough to make one moan.

Finally, Rioult is completely undone by the magnitude of Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms. Nine little dancers skittering across a stage in unflattering unitards are no match for even a technically flawed recording of orchestra and full choir pouring forth that celestial ocean of sound.

Rioult might do well to reconsider his need to tackle high profile scores. Perhaps the challenge is not in measuring up to music that is faster, louder, or even divinely beautiful, but in creating a visual composition that can stand on its own, buoyed only by Rioult's need to tell us something wondrous with dance alone.

Top: Marianna Tsartolia in "If By Chance." Photo by Stephen Schreiber.
Bottom: Penelope Gonzalez and Lorena Egan in "Black Diamond." Photo by Richard Termine.

Volume 5, No. 24
June 18, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Lisa Rinehart

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