The American modern dance company, RIOULT DANCE NY, performs their New York season at the Joyce Theater May 30th- June 3rd. The program, Written for Dance, is ‘inspired by the music of Russian composers representing three distinct musical periods the romantic, the neo-classical, and the contemporary. Here’s a description from the press release:
The program will feature Rioult’s Dream Suite, (2014) a contemporary take on romanticism set to Tchaikovsky’s “Orchestral Suite No. 2 in C Major”; Les Noces, (2005) a sexually charged deconstruction of the marriage ritual danced to Stravinsky’s score of the same name; and a World Premiere, Nostalghia,set to a commissioned score by Polina Nazaykinskaya and performed with live music.
The show opened with Dream Suite, the most colorful of the pieces on the program. The upstage curtain glowed in either blues or orange, while the dancers were costumed in pedestrian pants and short-sleeve shirts for the men, drop-waist sleeveless dresses for the women all in spring colors. The movement sequences were rich and detailed, innovative and nuanced, and all flawlessly executed by fluid, strong dancers. What was most captivating about this piece was the sense of whimsy and play of the characters created onstage. Three dancers emerged wearing beautiful animal masks, while two dancers formed a magical duet,one serving as the head, the other as the body of a surreal creature whose head could levitate away from the disconnected body. While the movement was always interesting in terms of movement vocabulary, thematically, It became more interesting as the non-animal dancers interacted with the dreamlike characters.
The piece also employed impressive partnering, both in conception and execution. However, there was often so much diverse choreography going on that it forced either close attention on one particular dancer or couple or to visually pull back and attempt to take in the entire stage picture, possibly missing the detail from these skilled performers. The piece somehow did not feel chaotic, rather intricately layered and constructed. Dream Suite is a masterful balance of imaginative fun and sophistication. Seeing this piece was something akin to falling down a Lewis Carrol rabbit-hole, entering a world of magical beings capable of magical things that would be full of surprise to revisit . Even to see this piece twice would not be seeing the same thing twice.
Next was ‘Les Noces’ set to the Stravinsky score of the same name. The work deconstructs and depicts traditional marriage rituals in Russia. The piece juxtaposes contrasting qualities; it was formal and serious yet at times uncomfortably sexual. Beginning with a group female movement and followed by a group male movement, the almost nude bodies added costume elements, danced on top of and with folding chairs, eventually dancing with each other and coupling off. The two gender-divided movements were lightening fast and almost entirely unison, however small nuances of personality comes out from each performer mostly through facial expression. It’s almost as if they acknowledge neither the audience nor each other. From the pace, the challenge,the sheer physical exertion of the piece set against the tense Stravinsky score, Les Noces exudes an uncomfortable yet dazzling sense of societal duty, or going through the motions.The work brilliantly allows the music, originally composed for dance, to provide a window into the emotions of aggression, joy, or constraint that these characters seemed to purposefully ignore. For the most part, these characters do not look like they are enjoying the rite of passage though it is striking and engaging for the audience. The utter control of their bodies in feats of technical ferocity is made more powerful by the disconnected emotional reserve in their expression.
More Stravisnky and Russian folklore inspired ballets:
- ABTs ‘The Golden Cockerel’– say what!?
- The Firebird and other Bird-Brained Ballets– what flying colors!
- Rite of Spring- James Franco reviews– allegedly!
- The Snow Maiden– weather-based Russian ballet= winter
And just in case you’re curious;
- 3 Ways to Russianify Yourself- you’re welcome from Ms. Ruhlinsky
The program ended with a word premiere of ‘Nostalghia’, set to original music performed live from composer/collaborator Polina Nazaykinskaya. Similar to Les Noces the stage picture was very dark with a black cyc giving the feeling of expansive space. The costumes in muted tones of nudes, blues, and gray by Naomi Luppescu were neither overtly feminine nr masculine, featuring asymmetric gathers held together or fringed with red threads. These beautifully showcased the individual physiques of the dancers while also supporting the overall conceptual design.
In this piece, like the two before, creativity and storytelling is employed through the intricate movement vocabulary and the performances from each stunning dancer However, this piece was all about the music. The choreography beautifully illuminated various instrument voices, melodies, and qualities of the score. The music itself danced, sweeping in moments, a long sustained oboe note at the end of one section, plunking notes as a solo male or solo female seemed to be constructing or conducting imaginary towers, the offstage musicians, the fellow dancers.
At times these dancing soloists were innocent or exploring, leading the other dancers into unison phrases that either clustered them together or forced them to break apart and travel individually around the stage. Noticeable use of weight and percussive sound from the dancers heels in a stationary rhythmic phrase echoed an earlier music pattern, suggesting not only the presence of nostalgia but the fluid give and take between musician and dancer. As the curtain falls, one soloist continues to dance; either a nagging feeling or a beautiful memory that one can’t get rid of, and maybe you don’t want to.
Emotion is the key to creating memory, and Written For Dance is the type of evocative experience creating these emotional memories which linger in the visceral bodies and quiet minds like a beating rhythm, a continuous evolution even after the experience ends.
Favorite Highlights from the Show:
- The press lift where the female held her arms tight to her body and the male lifting her walked backwards
- The playful rolling section on Dream Suite where the animal characters jumped over the human counterparts
- The 3 beautiful animal masks by artist Anne Posluszny
- The wondrous and hilarious detachable head/body duet in Dream Suite
- The 3 times repetition for the group in Dream Suite in explosive horizontal jump where they seemed to land on their stomach and then immediately pop back up and repeat. They looked like flying fish.
- The uncomfortable long sequence in Les Noces where both men and women gyrate furiously on their chairs. It is bold and daring to present sex with neither humor nor a curtain. This pushes the boundaries of the audience and the art form.
- The part where the 4 men in Les Noces hed themselves aloft in a sideways fetal position on their folding chairs. I don’t know how they supported themselves in this.
- The beautiful swaying triplette pattern moving around the stage in Nostalghia, led by dancer Jere Hunt who seemed tireless in the wonder and scope of travel as other dancers broke away
- The jerking motion of the head during the rhythmic feet pattern which to me summed up so much of what nostalgia is- the out-of-balance attention of the mind while the body continues to move forward in time. If this is what choreographer Pascal Rioult was going for with this piece, it was incredibly successful in this one memorable and inventive phrase
- The lighting, a narrowing spotlight on the face of dancer Catherina Cooch in a fading moment of acknowledging the audience
- The live performance from the musicians filled the space and made the movement, the commitment of the dancers performance and the emotional experience in the audience palpable
For tickets, visit the website of the Joyce Theater. These are an absolute steal for a show of this caliber.
Find more on RIOULT DANCE NY via their website.
Does it matter that these composers were Russian? Or is it more important that the music was composed specifically for dance? Perhaps I would benefit from seeing the show a second time, picking up details that I missed upon first encounter, beyond the obvious benefit of enjoying the program again.