French choreographer Pascal Rioult brings his company RIOULT and a number of dynamic and diverse works to the to The Joyce Theater. Known for his energetic choreography that draws from his experience dancing for the Martha Graham Dance Company but is uniquely his own, Rioult possesses a strong sense of traditional form and craft as well as the ability to create ambitious works that seem to extend beyond the limits of the stage. RIOULT’s current season at the Joyce Theater includes a number of premieres and repertory in Program A, as well as an evening-length piece The Great Mass, in Program B.
The Great Mass is performed in two-acts and danced to Mozart’s “Great Mass in C minor K. 427.” Rioult created The Great Mass as a tribute to the human spirit and an exploration of the divine. The work is a collage of powerful images that carry the audience along on a spiritual journey. Although there are very few original ideas or exceptionally innovative movement phrases in The Great Mass, the dancers give emotional performances that demonstrate a range from subtlety to complete abandon. Dancer Robert Robinson is exceptional and at times steals the show; he executes every movement as if delivering a sweeping solo, even though he never misses a beat and is perfectly in sync with the other dancers.
Mozart’s “Great Mass,” as with most of the brilliant composer’s work, is moving all on it’s own. Rioult has the difficult challenge of choreographing a dance work that can create the same epic, monumental, drama that is already inherent in the music. One of his solutions is to utilize large set elements; long stretches of white fabric are strung across the back of the stage during The Great Mass, creating large horizontal stripes on the backdrop. Throughout the piece, Rioult draws the audience’s attention to the fabric. In the beginning, dancer Jane Soto holds one end of a long train of the white fabric and travels slowly across the stage, covering the bodies of the rest of the dancers as if laying them to rest. Towards the middle of the dance, red lights are brought up behind the fabric, and together with the white stripes, the fabric forms creating a slightly militaristic atmosphere as the dancers march downstage slowly and abruptly crumble to the ground one by one. For a brief moment towards the end of the work, the dancers enter the stage behind the fabric and duck under the lowest stripe in order to spread out and fill the stage. These theatrical images are carefully crafted and thoughtfully placed to highlight the swells in Mozart’s music.
In attempting to have the dancing match the music, most of the choreography in The Great Mass pushes the sense of drama too far. There are wonderful moments of subtlety in the beginning of the work, where dancers pause occasionally facing front and look intently at the ground. These introverted moments of reflection are more powerful than the grandiose group sections, some of which involve the dancers in a tight clump center-center groping at an unknown god above who shines down on them in the form of a strong center spotlight. Rioult’s innovative set-design and interesting staging would be better complimented by the more humanistic, rather than divine, aspirations of his movement. Rioult’s strength is his ability to make an audience empathize with the dancers, and I would have liked to see their human struggles within the world of The Great Mass, rather than their attempt to reach beyond their world and into the realm of the unknown.
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