Keeper of American modern dance

Martha Graham once commented, “You don’t choose to be a choreographer, you are chosen.”

This certainly applies to Pascal Rioult, a former Principal Dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company and founder of RIOULT Dance NY, now in its 21st year.

Martha Graham and May O’Donnell, the original Pioneer Woman in Graham’s “Appalachian Spring” were mentors to Rioult. There is still reverence in Rioult’s voice when he speaks of these legendary women. “They were anthesis to each other, O’Donnell was more lyrical and Graham more of the dramatist.” Both influence his work, but he has taken the Graham technique to a different place. “I use the essence of the technique, the center, the breathing, and transform it into a contemporary way of doing it.”

Rioult speaks on the pieces being performed in Miami: ‘Views of the Fleeting World’, ‘City’, ‘Wien’ and ‘Bolero’. Rioult explains that he “tries to have a program of three to four pieces in an evening to give a spectrum of art pieces.” He often uses the analogy of visual art when speaking of his choreography.

Wien - Photo by Eric Bandiero
Wien – Photo by Eric Bandiero

The first piece discussed is ‘Views of the Fleeting World’ set to J.S. Bach’s ‘The Art of Fugue’. It was inspired by ancient Chinese ink prints and Japanese woodblock prints by the Japanese master Hiroshige.

“What is it one remembers at the end of life?” Rioult asks and examines this question in different moments reflecting art. “It celebrates beauty and humanity in art, as in life.” He compares ‘Views of the Fleeting World’ to an impressionist painting and Bach’s repetitive score as “a canvas for your imagination.”

‘City’, set to Bach’s ‘Sonata for Violins and Piano #6 in G Major’, is next on his mind. Performed before projections of Manhattan buildings that move and transform throughout the piece.  ‘City’ is a study of human behaviour when in crowds. Rioult employs stylised pedestrian movements to present a vision of what occurs in moments “when you stop and start seeing.” In ‘City’ we see realism in art and the actions of people who are often alone in a crowd.

The City - Photo: Erin Baiano
The City – Photo: Erin Baiano

RIOULT Dance NY has over two decades of presenting modern dance nationally and internationally. Rioult has many plans for his company’s 3rd decade, including continuing his collaboration with American composers. In the past 4 years he has commissioned new works on which to set his choreography.

This year he is working with Richard Danielpour on the 3rd part of a group of dances based on women in Greek tragedy. Titled ‘Women on the Edge’ it deals with the story of the Trojan War. Choreographers collaborating with composers is not new in the dance world (as evidenced by Balanchine and Stravinsky). Rioult admits it’s harder to accomplish these days, but “it’s wonderful and exciting to collaborate with other artists.”

Wien - Photo by Basil Childers
Wien – Photo by Basil Childers

Lastly, he spoke of two pieces choreographed to music by Maurice Ravel. ‘Wien’ set to Ravel’s ‘La Valse’ deconstructs the Viennese waltz. Written between the two world wars, it is a dark, strong and powerful piece. Rioult has taken the formalised Viennese waltz and “twisted it until it explodes.” It is an “image of a society gone wrong, with images of a society going to hell.” In ‘Wien’ a group of people is caught in a whirlpool of violence. The dancers are constantly circling and there are no exits. This could occur at any time “whenever a group of people do evil,” says Rioult.

Bolero - Photo by Basil Childers
Bolero – Photo by Basil Childers

‘Bolero’ with music of the same name, is an abstract piece with numbers and mathematical equations at the core. It has been described as a “dance machine” where an engine starts slowly and gradually revs up to an incredible tour de force for the dancers.

RIOULT Dance NY is the torchbearer of American modern dance in the 21st century.

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