RIOULT Dance NY at Joyce Theater

Photo of Jere Hunt and Michael S. Phillips by Nina Wurtzel. RIOULT Dance NY will perform at the Joyce Theater Wednesday, May 31 to Sunday June 4. The company will present a world premiere set to 1970s progressive rock music that harkens back to Rioult’s days of club dancing, and a re-staging of the 1995 work Te Deum.

I attended a rehearsal several weeks ago and it looks like an interesting modern dance bill, breaking up my classical routine of the ABT season at the Met.

Here are thoughts from the rehearsal from my colleague Jocelyn Delifer:

Typical open rehearsals provide the audience with a glimpse of the creation process. In this preview, Rioult elected to show excerpts near their final form, after introducing the context of his work and the underlying vision. Te Deum, a re-staging of a 1995 creation, was followed by Fire in the Sky, a world premiere.

Rioult humbly admitted that this program was all about himself, with two pieces that are strongly anchored in his personal story.

Following the premiere of Te Deum in 1996, Rioult told the Los Angeles Times: “It’s a piece I feel in a way I’ll be working on my whole life.” This year for the first time, the main role will be performed by a dancer other than Rioult himself. The first part evokes the classic Martha Graham’s style, a reference to Rioult’s career with Graham’s dance company. Here the dancers obediently adhere to the style while apparently saving their energy and ardor for the second part. It is truly the male duet in the second part that captures Rioult’s story and personal experience. This creation marked a turning point in Rioult’s career: after a fulfilling dancer life, he decided to become a choreographer. This is a transition that many dancers aspire to but comprehend its challenges only when the time comes. This duet embodies that transition. The interaction between the two dancers is atypical: the male duet reveals a main character seeking support, protection and guidance. Another essential component of Te Deum is the athleticism of the steps, Rioult started as a track and field athlete, and this reference was important to him. The dramatic choreography, where dancers violently fall, bounce and roll on the floor, contrasts with a religious and ethereal music.

Fire in the Sky is also a reference to Rioult’s experience. Rioult shared with us his memories of the 1970s and his appeal for hard rock. His idea was to create a piece where dancers are carried by the music the same way he was when he would go clubbing. While the easy approach would be to let the dancers improvise with the music, Rioult made an effort to incorporate his own vocabulary and structure. The result is stunning and Rioult succeeded in reviving the 1970s atmosphere. Although this rehearsal did not involve costumes, lights and stage effects, the dancers amazingly gave us the full picture. Rioult clearly wanted his dancers to enjoy themselves on stage. Dancers communicate that excitement to the audience, to the point where you might feel the urge to join them on the dance floor. The choreography is so cleverly tied to the music that the dancers seem to become the instruments: they bring the music to life.