Above: Michael Spencer Phillips of RIOULT; rehearsal photo by Kokyat
Thursday October 11, 2012 - RIOULT presented an intimate evening of dance at Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, something of a calling card for their June 2013 performances at The Joyce. The MMAC theater was packed and the audience watched the three works in total awed silence and erupted in sustained applause at the end of each piece, and a whooping ovation for the dancers and choreographer at the close of the evening. This was a great night of dance, one of the finest I have ever experienced.
I think possibly Pascal Rioult and I are long-lost half-brothers. We have such similar tastes in music, in movement and in dancers, and in the underlying emotive forces which make dance meaningful beyond the sheer poetry of movement.
Opening with the gorgeous ON DISTANT SHORES, the evening took us from ancient Troy to Vienna of the inter-war years and finally to an abstract place where heavenly bodies move like cogs in a grand machine. Music reigns for RIOULT: you are unlikely ever to hear anything banal or seond-rate at his performances. He aims high, and always hits his mark. Lighting by David Finley was of especially high quality, making the dancers and the dance truly radiant.
Aaron Jay Kernis provides the ethereal, sublimely crystalline score for ON DISTANT SHORES. It's Pascal Rioult's contention that Helen of Troy has been ill-treated in the history books: it was not her fault that she was beautiful. Pascal seeks to redeem her, and in this ballet the mythic beauty is incarnated by the intoxicating loveliness of Charis Haines. Walking pensively along a beach, Charis/Helen encounters the spirits of dead heroes, both Greek and Trojan. In a series of wondrously wrought adagios, the warriors respond to the vision of the woman who launched a thousand ships. Ms. Haines in a shimmering tunic looks other-worldly while the men - Jere Hunt, Brian Flynn, Michael Spencer Phillips and Josiah Guitian - reveal their Grecian-god physiques in black briefs. The cumulative effect of all the elements in ON DISTANT SHORES is spell-binding.
Altogether darker and bordering on grim, WIEN is nonetheless spectacularly beautiful in its own way. Ravel's' La Valse sets the stage for a very different vision from Balanchine's vampiric ballroom. In Rioult's interpretation, a sextet of everyday working-class people move in huddling, furtive patterns under the shadow of the impending disastrous war that will tear Europe to shreds. Circling the stage and one another in a swirling agitation, they fall, rise, support or betray one another; violence seeps from beneath the surface while passages of same-sex bonding remind of of the other population who were decimated in the death camps. Dancers Anastasia Soroczynski, Marianna Tsartolia, Penelope Gonzalez, Brian Flynn, Jere Hunt and Michael Spencer Phillips each strove to maintain their individual dignity but in the end were swept into the vortex and to their collective doom. This is a brilliant, disturbing piece and it drew a frenzied ovation from the audience.
Ravel's BOLERO was wrought into a vivid pageant of contemporary movement as the eight dancers in silvery-sleek, body-revealing tights took on a particular luminosity; they became the working parts of a massive mechanism that churned on and on to the relentless rhythm of the immortal score. Four basic movement motifs are endlessly repeated by the dancers, sometimes individually or in seemingly random configurations, or in unison. From time to time, a dancer will unfold into a sustained arabesque, only to be re-absorbed into the throbbing engine. Despite the automaton feel of the patterns, there was an underlying sensuality that subtly manifested itself as the dancers showed awareness of their own physicality, twisting or bending in response to the voluptuousness that snakes thru the rhythmic inevitability. Performed to perfection by Charis Haines, Sara Seger, Jane Sato, Anastasia Soroczynski, Josiah Guitian, Jere Hunt, Michael Spencer Phillips and Brian Flynn, Rioult's BOLERO is a masterpiece.