What does it feel like to celebrate 20 years?
Most incredible. I never thought we would get here and keep growing as one of the most vibrant companies in New York. It is very rewarding in terms of the works created; but also the opportunities offered to the dancers.
Do you remember those early days/years, celebrating 5 years, for example? Can you share one or two mile-stone memories or anecdotes?
Yes I do remember the early years; they felt very exciting, but so uncertain. But I always looked to grow the company to a “mainstream” dance company. From the beginning I used to say that either it would become a “full-fledged” dance company, or it will not.
Our invitation to the Cannes International Dance Festival in France after only 3 years of existence is a major memory; making us believe that we could have an international career.
Our first Joyce Theater “All Together Different” season, after 6 years was another major recognition; a test of things to come.
What brings you to that place each year to want to make a new work? What is that like?
Well … it is what I do, what I love to do, what I am meant to do (as my mentor Martha Graham used to tell us: “You do not choose to become a choreographer, you are chosen”. So … What can I do? After I tried my hand at it, there was no choice and, if it is not easy every day, there is nothing else I would want to do and no other people I would want to spend my days with but my dancers. Meanwhile, I try to not take it (myself) too seriously … every day, I just go to work. And I hope it will make a very small difference.
Program B features Wien (1995), Iphigenia (2013), and the premiere, Dream Suite to music by Tchaikovsky, but that’s all we know. Can you tell us more about Dream Suite?
The new work “Dream Suite” is a whimsical piece inspired by the spirit of Chagall. It is new territory for me as I am not known for whimsical or light hearted works. The central movement of Tchaikovsky’s Suite #2 is called “Child’s dream” and it gave me the clue about what the piece would be about. There is also a definite folk feeling to the piece that fits Tchaikovsky’s music, and it is uncharted territory for me. The dreams are surreal landscapes; some inhabited by contemporary people with animal heads. One of the attraction (and challenge) for me was to see if I could do something different to this highly romantic and balletic music.
Program A is colored with connections from your past (“Martha, May” - Graham’s El Penitente (1940) and O'Donnell's Suspension (1943)? Plus early works by you (“Me”- Black Diamond (2003) and Views of the Fleeting World (2008)).
Why these iconic works? And why the pairing with these particular works from your past?
The idea was to honor my roots in American modern dance and say: “I did not invent anything, I am just building upon a shared past … Nothing is born out of a void, all transforms”. Those two works are iconic for me: Suspension was a shock to me as it was the first totally abstract dance I had ever seen. My Black Diamond was a turning point for me in trying to make poetry with abstraction. El Penitente is a work that I loved to dance for Martha as it is so simple, primitive yet shows brilliant craftsmanship from which I learned so much. It is also the work I danced at the Paris Opera and performed with my wife Joyce Herring and Michael Baryshnikov. Lots of great memories.
What keeps you making work?
In our ever-challenging world of art-making what do you hope for your work and your company’s future?
To stay alive for at list another 20 years, to stay vibrant and changing while keeping to a high professional and human standards.
RIOULT Dance NY opens this Tuesday, June 17. Find out more here
Read more about the works below
El Penitente premiered in 1940 at Bennington College in Vermont, part of the Bennington School of the Dance, now the American Dance Festival. The dance has the look of primitive folk art come to life. Born out of Martha Graham's fascination with the American southwest and specifically a sect of Penitents who believed in purification through severe penance, the dance has a simple formalism, episodic structure and naïve, archaic gestures. Constructed as a play within a play, El Penitente opens with the entrance of a troupe of strolling players. They don their costumes and enact a series of vignettes from the Bible. Audiences see a childlike pageant that includes flagellation, revelation, seduction, repentance, crucifixion, and salvation - a stylized meshing of dance of celebration perhaps meant to inspire the generosity of the onlookers. El Penitente (1940) is set to music by Louis Horst. The piece was set for RIOULT with Pascal Rioult, Joyce Herring, and Kenneth Topping all teaching their former roles to current dancers.
An abstract piece for two female dancers, Black Diamond (2003) achieves poetry through dance; every movement translates to qualities embodied by a black diamond - strength, beauty, purity, and mystery.
Views of the Fleeting World (2008) was inspired by the ancient woodblock prints of the Japanese master Hiroshige and the ingenious structure of Bach's musical score. The ephemeral quality of all living things and the eternal cycle of life are the themes that Rioult found common, and explored in this contemporary dance work. Each of the nine short vignettes - "Orchard," "Gathering Storm," "Wild Horses," "Dusk, Rain," "Night Ride," "Summer Wind," "Moonlight," and "Flowing River" - captures a moment in time and nature through the colors, lines, and rhythm of the dance. These moments reflect the depth of emotion that can be found in such seemingly spare and simple elements.
Iphigenia (2013) is a dance drama chronicling a young woman's transfiguration from innocent child to transcendental heroine. Based on Euripides' "Iphigenia in Aulis," it focuses on King Agamemnon's decision to sacrifice his daughter - much to the horror of his wife, Clytemnestra and his daughter's betrothed, Achilles - and Iphigenia's ultimate acceptance of her fate. Through dramatic dance scenes weaved together with a recurring ensemble-the Greek chorus, the part-narrative, part-abstract piece unfolds, reintroducing audiences to this beautifully tragic story.
Wien (1995) turns the Viennese waltz's revered image of grace, clarity, and social refinement inside out, using it as a metaphor to expose the decadence and moral disintegration of a society. Six dancers create the illusion of an entire city, moving continuously in a large, clockwise path, alternating in their portrayal of victims violently swept to humiliation, imprisonment, and death, to aristocrats aloof and detached from the horrific reality.