Williams Center for the Arts
February 21, 2018
By Winfield Maben
On Wednesday night RIOULT Dance NY took the stage at Lafayette College’s Williams Center for the Arts to showcase a trio of works entitled "Women on the Edge...Unsung Heroines Of The Trojan War". The three works included in the program each showcased women of Greek myth who throughout history have been marginalized and underrepresented, re-writing the story of the Trojan war with these heroines at the helm. Pascal Rioult, the company’s choreographer and artistic director, utilizes movements clearly inspired by his time with Martha Graham as well as additions of his own. His motifs seem to have a touch of inspiration from Nijinsky’s Ballet Russes to craft a choreographic style that merges the classic and contemporary world flawlessly. The costume and set design, while minimalistic, portrays the Grecian roots of the pieces without distracting from the shapes and movements of the dancer’s bodies. Rioult’s thematic focus on the unrepresented heroines of classic Greek myth constructs a commentary on the continued marginalization of women, the heroic virtues that have gone overlooked in a male dominated society, and the cyclical nature of violence and oppression that our society still finds itself facing today though the narrative arc of the three pieces.
The first piece in the program, "Iphigenia", focuses on the daughter of Agamemnon who has been chosen as a sacrifice to appease a goddess and allow Greek’s ships to depart for war. The curtain opens on a tableau; a large corps of dancers stands behind the titular heroine who is promptly lifted into the air and sacrificed. From here the narrative sets itself at the beginning and follows Iphigenia through her life in a series of duets including ones with her mother, father, and her betrothed Achilles. Throughout this work Iphigenia is isolated from the other dancers on stage through her movement qualities which flow in a fluid gentle manner against the hard statuesque positions which perforate the movement of the corps as a whole. Catherine Cooch, who danced the role, utilized rolling body motions, fluid arms, soft hands, and light footwork to demonstrate the characteristics that define Iphigenia. Despite the modern choreography, Rioult shows an acute awareness and respect for the origins of Greek myth, going so far as to include the choreographic equivalent of a Greek Chorus who move in and out of the interludes between the piece’s sections accompanied by a voiceover which provides further context to the audience.
The second piece in the program, titled "On Distant Shores...a redemption fantasy" features Helen of Troy, portrayed by Charis Haines, and a quartet of male dancers representing the deceased heroes of the Trojan war. In the artist’s note in the playbill, Pascal Rioult states “I have always felt that Helen was wrongfully accused and have long wanted to redeem her”. The piece showcases this redemption through Helen’s continual forgiveness in the face of adversity, depicted through her response to the sudden and often violent movements made by the fallen heroes towards Helen. The piece opens with Helen wandering through the fallen bodies of the Heroes. Her movement is slow and evokes desperate and painful emotions. Her gestures are sharp and accented as she reaches outward as if she is seeking forgiveness, or the very redemption this piece is meant to provide. It becomes clear in this piece that Rioult wanted the femininity of his characters to stand at the forefront as many movement motifs center around Helen’s pelvic contractions which implicate her gender in the way she has been canonized in the original myth. The emphasis on gender and its relation to society and violence is compounded upon in the program’s closing piece.
The third and final piece, "Cassandra’s Curse", is the most blunt in its thematics but in doing so ties the program together in a way that further enlightens the audience to the themes of the earlier works. The staging of the piece includes several large transparent pieces of wall, which can be configured into a variety of shapes to suit the need of the choreography. The piece’s opening features a large ensemble cast who place the titular Cassandra in a box made from these walls as she fortell’s the doom of Troy. As the piece continues images of contemporary warfare are projected upon the box, highlighting the fact that the violence Cassandra foretold is not specific to Troy and is an issue we as a society still face today. The piece goes on, depicting Greek soldiers overrunning Troy, as a male quartet dominates and subjugates a female quartet. Rioult’s choreography here is effective in the way it highlights the fact that often the victims of warfare are not those on the front lines. As the Trojans are exiled from Troy, Cassandra stands as a leader among them, taking them in and out of the box and dancing in synchronicity with them. By the end, Rioult leaves the audience with the suggestion that despite Cassandra’s personal victory, the world at large remains a violent place.
Through effective use of both choreographic and thematic elements RIOULT Dance NY was able to put on a performance that was both kinesthetically and intellectually engaging. The work done here exceeds the mere retelling of classic myth and instead utilizes myth to elevate its own message. Through the relation of dynamic choreography and effective, thoughtful storytelling, Pascal Rioult has constructed a program that is sure to leave a lasting impression on the mind of the audience.