Ravel: Pascal Rioult Dance Company.
Mae G. Banner
Rioult Dance Company
Egg, Nov. 4
Pascal Rioult set himself a double challenge in last Friday’s
all-Ravel dance concert at the Egg. First, he had to bring
variety to what might have been a monochromatic show. Second,
he had to find new interpretations for music that many others
have choreographed before him.
Fortunately for the hard to please, Rioult proved that Ravel’s
wonderful music can support new choreographic ideas. His Home
Front (2000) was sportive and light, but with a dramatic
undercurrent—quite a contrast to the playful mirror images
of Balanchine’s square dance-like Le Tombeau de Couperin
to the same music.
And, though Balanchine’s La Valse remains the definitive
statement on a society plunging into decadence, Rioult’s Wien
(1995) ups the ante to create a clump of oppressed pseudo-revelers
who literally dance themselves to death. Where Balanchine
focused on the personal, Rioult makes the demonic waltz political.
These two dances opened a program that was marked by imaginative
choreographic structures infused with a mathematical sense
of order. Rioult brings together symmetry and asymmetry so
that his dances are never predictable. For example, the four
women of Home Front, circling and unwinding in dresses
blue as a Provencal sky, were followed by three burly fellows
who raised their fists and knocked each other down in music
hall fashion. A woman in red provided further contrast, and
may have been a figure of death.
In Wien, the six dancers moved as a unit, taking small,
flat-footed, sometimes fearful steps, keeping their shoulders
hunched. Shadowy lighting and street clothes in a palette
of black, gray and white underscored the sense of doom that
grew with the escalating mania of Ravel’s waltz.
A native of Normandy, Rioult joined the Martha Graham company
in 1986 and began choreographing in 1989. His work with Graham
has given his choreography a dramatic edge, even when the
music is impressionistic.
Rioult’s programmatic dance Prelude to Night (2002)
is choreographed in three parts. The outer sections are to
music from Rapsodie Espagnole and the heart of the
dance is from Alborada del Gracioso. Penelope Gonzales
made the journey from a surreal imprisonment (a white-coated
doctor figure put a studious finger to his chin; his colleagues
held her as she struggled to break free) through a dangerous
passage into the unknown, surrounded by bare-chested men wearing
white, long-nosed Venetian masks, and finally emerged to dance
alone in the light, her arms raised deliciously.
The final dance, Bolero (2002), presented the greatest
choreographic challenge, if only because the music is so well-known.
Other choreographers, notably Lar Lubovitch, have made it
a rich display of sexuality, a couple dance comparable to
the Kama Sutra. Rioult takes a completely opposite
approach. His Bolero is an ensemble dance that illuminates
Ravel’s musical structure.
Set before a cubist cityscape in many shades of gray, the
eight dancers began in near-stillness, in a jagged cluster,
moving only their arms and occasionally thrusting a hip, always
at a stiff angle. My eyes were led to one dancer, then another,
as each stepped slightly forward and added a bit more to the
accumulating movement phrase, then faded back into the always
minimally moving ensemble. There might be a pivot or a couple
of steps to the side, but the underlying momentum prevailed.
Rioult’s choreography was disciplined and ingenious in its
opposition of angled, wooden arms to Ravel’s sinuous melody.
The contrast works. It kept my eyes riveted to the dancers
to see which one would step forward to do something new and
how they would melt back into the whole.
Like the music, the dancers’ stylized poses and studied minimalism
changed so gradually that the dancers never lost their spatial
relation to each other and to the wider stage space. So, it
was startling when at last the bodies separated to become
a circle that whirled and thrust one, then another into the
center. Now, geometry began to keep company with voluptuous
swirls, matching the structure of the music to the final great
Me a Story
Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company
Egg, Nov. 6
An engaging storyteller and a percussionist for all seasons
joined the Ellen Sinopoli dancers in a Sunday afternoon program
that, as Goldilocks would say, was “just right.”
In a smoothly-paced hour, the audience of about 150 kids and
their families were treated to folktales from Brazil, Russia,
the Antilles Islands, and a Northwest Native American story
about how Coyote steals Spring. Storyteller Pleasant DeSpain,
a recent arrival from Arizona, was sometimes accompanied by
an ebullient Brian Melick, sometimes by Sinopoli’s five limber
dancers, and sometimes only by the audience, who DeSpain gently
encouraged to help him out with a collective chant or gesture.
Well-wrought tales and shimmering musical lines lifted Sinopoli’s
scaled down choreography to a pleasant plateau. All the elements,
including clean-lined costumes by Kim Vanyo, cohered nicely.
Rhythms, danced in black knee-length pants and leaf-printed
tunics, presented giraffes with long upraised arms, lumbering
gibbons with humped shoulders, and gazelles who flew about
the small stage and jumped off and raced out of the theater.
Way for the Segue, a premiere, showed the dancers moving
as one in a vine-like line, bending from the waist in profile
to make a sturdy garden wall, or waving their arms, one after
the other, like branches in the wind. This was tight, orderly
choreography, shapely and easy to read. Working in a small
space led to well-designed dances.
The best was another premiere, Dance Granny Dance,
which brought together all the elements: storyteller, percussionist
and dancers in a West Indian tale about the trickster Anansi
the Spider. Sinopoli used the whole theater, from the top
row to the back stage curtain to dance this story. It was
fun to see three grandmothers (Melissa George, Yukiko Sumiya
and Laura Teeter) all miming together in their calico print
dresses and lacy sweaters, as they danced to market and home
to sell their vegetables.
We first saw Anansi as a pair of sharp- fingered hands emerging
from the back curtain. These were followed by the arms and
legs of Ann Olson and Sarah Pingel, the two tallest dancers
in the company, dressed in unitards of pied purple and black.
A neat idea to present two dancers—eight arms and legs in
all—as the spider.
was an exuberant finale to a well-planned program. We talk
about building audiences of the future. Shows like the Egg’s
family series are the building blocks.