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Robert Abrams
Performance Reviews
The Joyce Theater
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre - Fugue for Men, Black Diamond, Firebird, Bolero

by Robert Abrams
May 4, 2004
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011

Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre - Fugue for Men, Black Diamond, Firebird, Bolero

246 West 38th Street
NY, NY 10018

presented at
The Joyce Theater
New York, NY
For Tickets call 212-242-0800
May 4 to May 9, 2004

Robert Abrams
May 4, 2004

The Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre once again presented demanding, well composed choreography that was expertly danced. During this season, they present a combination of new and old works which are different, yet stylistically consistent. All of the works presented were worth seeing.

The program started with Fugue for Men, a work for four dancers set to J.S. Bach. This presentation was a world premiere. The set initially appeared to be a set of elegant, wide, black and white stripes draped as a backdrop. The four male dancers were clothed in tight, bright blue shorts. During the first section, the dancers held poses accompanied by slow piano music.

In the second section of the work, the pace increases. The lighting brightens, revealing the black stripes to be openings between the white drapes. This section featured an appealing interplay of human forms. The combination of poses, sense of movement and athletic bodies makes this work look very much like a Greek vase, even though there is nothing explicitly Greek about it.

In the third section, the stripes change color by means of a change in the lighting. Here the dancers mostly dance behind the drapes, repeatedly hiding and emerging, occasionally breaking this fourth wall to dance in front of the drapes before falling back again. There were assisted leaps in this section of the sort normally seen with male/female pairs. These assisted leaps looked perfectly well done as dance, without standing out as some kind of a statement.

In the fourth section, the dancers moved in front of the drapes and danced in spotlights (whereas the lighting in the previous sections tended to be more evenly spread across the stage).

Overall, I thought Fugue for Men was a fun work that showed off the four male dancers, in more ways than one, to good effect.

Choreography: Pascal Rioult
Music: J.S. Bach, Toccata in C Minor
Lighting: David Finley
Set and Costumes: Pascal Rioult
Dancers: William Brown, Brian Flynn, Michael Spencer Phillips, Royce K. Zackery

The next work on the bill was Black Diamond. I have seen this work before and loved it. The work was just as compelling tonight. Since I have reviewed this before I won't try to describe the entire work, but will just point out some highlights. In the initial section, I liked the way that one side of the stage was bathed in stage fog, while the other side was not. This may have been just an accident of the lighting and the air circulation in the theater, but I thought it created an effective asymmetry that complemented the symmetrical set.

There were several moments where I saw a clear connection to the kind of intensity found in Martha Graham's choreography, but here this intensity was danced with freer movements. A choreographer and dancers who can draw upon tradition while also giving it new life must be doing something right. Despite the severely modern setting, the work has a classical beauty, and yet, in many small ways, the choreography makes the less obvious choices expressed as offset and asynchronous sequencing of the movements of the two dancers. As devotees of Robert Frost know, less obvious choices have risks but also greater potential payoffs. Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre is a company that takes risks and dances them well.

The best way to sum up Lorena B. Egan and Penelope Gonzalez's dancing would be to say that when she was still she was very still and when she moved she was very moved. They both also have flawless flexibility.

Choreography: Pascal Rioult
Music: Igor Stravinsky, Duo Concertant
Lighting: David Finley
Set and costumes: Pascal Rioult
DancersL Lorena B. Egan and Penelope Gonzalez
Black Diamond was commissioned by The Grand Marnier Foundation, which also makes the key ingredient in Chin-Chin's renowned Grand Marnier Shrimp

Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre in "Black Diamond"
in photo: Penelope Gonzalez and Lorena B. Eagan
Photo courtesy of Richard Termine

The third work tonight was a New York Premiere of Firebird.

I liked this work very much. It works as an abstract, pure dance work, but it also has a story. The story is not entirely clear, but I have an active imagination and was easily able to fill in the blanks. It is entirely likely that the story I imagined was not exactly the story Pascal Rioult imagined, but that is a risk one takes when presenting dance.

The work starts with the stage bathed in ground fog. The set is filled with large angular striated shapes. The lighting is somewhat dark. People walk on slowly. They use halting motions with their heads bent down. Later they pop their heads out from behind the set at different levels upstage and downstage.

The lighting brightens.

At several points asynchronous groupings partition the stage. I like the way this choreographic device was used.

The movement and lighting elements were consistent with Black Diamond. Since both were well designed and well implemented, this is a good thing.

I liked the costumes, but I would have preferred slightly more color separation between the dancers' outfits and the set. They were both dark and thus the dancers didn't stand out as much as I think the choreography deserved. Of course, this might have been intentional. Shortly thereafter, a small girl comes on stage in a white dress and peacock feathers. She really stood out from the background, so perhaps there was an intentional contrast between the group and the small girl. Also, it could be argued that the perceptual fuzziness created by the costumes' edges is appropriate because this effect is characteristic of animals that travel in groups as a defense against predators. For instance, one of the adaptive benefits of Zebras' stripes is that, when they stand in a group, the stripes make it harder for a predator to pick out one individual to attack. Such a defensive tactic seemed justifiable in the context of the work. Perhaps the dancers are a flock of oppressed birds, or people, trying to escape the predations of the Firebird. Or maybe not. I told you I had an active imagination. In any case, later in the work, the lighting changed and brightened, and this change in the lighting significantly improved the delineation of the dancers from the background.

To return to describing the movements of the dancers, the movements of the group of dancers were somewhat birdlike, without being straight imitations of bird movements. This staccato movement quality was consistent with the kinds of movements Pascal Rioult often uses. I recently observed a real child be afraid of the sudden movements of real chickens. In the dance, the little girl's reaction to the group of dancers, who may represent birds, was quite believable in this regard. The child then overcomes her fears and plays with the birds. It looks like she slowly helps them break out of their depression. The girl leaves the stage. The group dances a maelstrom, running at each other until they are all lying on the ground. The girl comes back. She seems to be reviving them, perhaps by telling their story in writing. The work ends in a bright new day. It was kind of like the group needed the innocence and spirit of the girl to break out of their bonds. They could do so with her assistance, and did learn something, but clearly needed more than one infusion of her help before they could be free without assistance.

The program notes say that the work is based on a Russian folk tale and a Navajo legend in which the gift of the feather from the Golden bird brings power to man to overcome evil and be reborn. I hadn't read this note before seeing the work, so I guess my interpretation of the story is not that far off. Still, I would have expected a work called Firebird to feature a firebird. The dancers should either defeat an evil firebird, be helped by a good firebird, or become the firebird. Either way, some really impressive set piece should descend from the flyspace. The work is very fine as is, so they don't have to add an obvious firebird if they don't want to, but it is an element I would strongly suggest if they turn the dance into one of those Pixar animated films (or a film and a video game - video games being where a lot of the younger audience is these days).

Choreography: Pascal Rioult
Music: Igor Stravinsky, Firebird Suite
Lighting: David Finley
Costumes: Pilar Limosner
Set: Harry Feiner
Dancers: William Brown, Lorena B. Egan, Brian Flynn, Penelope Gonzalez, Michael Spencer Phillips, Anastasia Soroczynski, Marianna Tsartolia, Royce K. Zackery with Hannah Burnette

Photo by Bruce Feeley

The final work of the night was Bolero. I have seen this work before. At that time I thought it was a nearly perfect modern dance work. I still think it is a textbook perfect example of best practice. Not that every modern dance work should look like this, but I am certain that taking the time to deconstruct Bolero to figure out how it ticks would benefit any aspiring choreographer.

Here are a few elements I noticed this time. The work employs subtle transitions form one section to the next. These section transitions match the subtlety of the transitions from one soloist to the next in the first section. The work's long range trajectory is like the opening of a flower as seen in one of those stop motion films. The way the work expands to make ever increasing use of the space is a thing of beauty. The shapes that are created in the process are coherent, yet fluid, like a plasma.

Choreography: Pascal Riuolt
Music: Maurice Ravel, Bolero
Lighting: David Finley
Costumes: Russ Volger
Set: Harry Feiner
Dancers: William Brown, Lorena B. Egan, Brian Flynn, Penelope Gonzalez, Michael Spencer Phillips, Anastasia Soroczynski, Marianna Tsartolia, Royce K. Zackery

Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre in "Bolero"
Photo courtesy of Aimee Koch

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