writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition


Riedel Dance Theater
Joyce SoHo
New York, NY
November 20, 2003

by Mary Cargill
copyright © 2003 by Mary  Cargill

Jonathan Riedel’s The Unsightful Nanny, based on Edward Gorey’s work and performed as part of last years Limón season at the Joyce, was one of the most unusual and mordantly funny works seen in sometime. So the news that Riedel had formed a company formed mainly from Limón dancers to present his own works, including a new Gorey piece, was exciting news. His company (making its Joyce debut) is performing at the Joyce Soho from November 20th through the 23rd.

The program included six wonderfully varied pieces. The pure dance works, Of Apes and Angels, to Vivaldi, which opened the evening, and Cracked Earth v4.2 (to Arvo Part and Henryk Gorecki), which closed it, with all due respect to the use of space and the windswept camaraderie of the dancers, were not as interesting as the character works, which showed and unusual, engaging, imaginative, and at times, profound ability to create characters and scenes which he could feel in the music.

Hourglass makes as persuasive a case as can be made, I suspect, for setting Schubert’s songs to dance, in part because the dance did not compete with those perfect gems. Rather the audience seemed to be watching the music thorough the eyes of the dancers (Roxane D’Orleans Juste and Riedel.)

Uspud: Ballet Chretien en 3 Actes, too, shows an amazingly creative use of theatrical movement to support the music. It's set to a piano piece by Erik Satie, composed in 1892, with a text by J. P. Contamine de Latour which was read in translation by Keith Spencer and played live by Richard Cameron-Wolfe and), who, according to the notes, had rediscovered the long-forgotten work. De Latour’s narrative tells the story of Uspud, a pagan renowned for slaughtering early Christians and his encounter with the true Church. It deals with the currently unfashionable topics of sin, repentance, conversion, martyrdom, and salvation, with a light but sure hand which matches the delicate impressionistic music. Riedel is Uspud, a dutiful businessman, who is happy to pocket his check for a good day’s work creating martyrs. The stylized theatricality of the movements skirts delicately between comedy and tragedy, and Uspud’s various moods are mimed with extraordinary skill. Poor Uspud, calling his pagan god on the phone to explain that, despite his obedience, he is being attacked by horrible demons from the pits of Hell, is Everybureaucrat, finally accepting responsibility. The stiff, awkward waltz with the Mother Church (Mary Ford) encapsulated in a few seconds the beginning of peace and love that we all seek, and Riedel’s beatific expression when salvation is finally granted was simple, unexaggerated, and profoundly moving.

Riedel used Satie again for The Upcher’s Warbler, based on several Gorey pieces. It had a brilliant economy—all we needed for the story was a fake bird on the piano (played again by Richard Cameron-Wolfe). Francisco Ruvalcaba was the sweet child, Little Lord Fauntleroy on steroids, who pranced through the woods rescuing injured birds, and was just too good to live. Roxane D’Orleans Juste was an equally naïve child who finds the bird and gets her comeuppance at the hands of the hysterically sinister Riedel. And then The Ulcers (Gorey’s “The Deranged Cousins”) skulked on, killing the bird and finally each other. All of this involved a scarf, used with an ingenuity and timing which would make Petipa jealous. The witty program definition of the Upcher’s Warbler includes the fact that the bird has dull white underpants. Dull is never a word that could be used for Jonathan Riedel.

Dancers of the Riedel Dance Theater. Photo: Julie Lemberger.

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 8
November 21, 2003

Copyright ©2003 by Mary  Cargill



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The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on November 4, 2003