Walter’s World: RIOULT Premieres The Violet Hour

May 31, 2012

By Walter Rutledge

RIOULT presented their 2012 New York season May 10 through 13 at John Jay College’s newly renovated Gerald W. Lynch Theater.

The season featured two works from the company repertoire Celestial Tides (2011) set to Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B-flat Major by J.S. Bach and Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird (2003), and the world Premiere of Violet Hour to the commissioned score Tres Lent, and Catching the Wave by Joan Tower. The concert displayed the work of Artistic Director Pascal Rioult as that of a skilled craftsman and accomplished artist.

The first characteristic of Rioult’s work that becomes apparent is his musicality, his understanding of the musical compositions and his deliberate and focused use of the music. This establishes the dances as confident “choreography first” works, the music is a secondary element in conveying the message.


In Celestial Tides Rioult uses the composition’s counterpoint to his full advantage. His use of theme and development/variation and reoccurring movements and patterns go beyond merely echoing the music. Here the choreographer makes the dance a second orchestra devising a visual music with bodies.

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Firebird was referred to as a deconstruction of the ballet introduced to the world by the Ballet Russe in 1910. Roult used the universality of the legend, its story of enlightenment and produced a wonderful tale of innocence lost and find. A young girl played by seven year-old Sierra Glasheen replaces the firebird.

The work has a stylized look that reminisced the Art Deco/Art Moderne period. The dark earth tone set by Harry Feiner had the look of triangular shaped rusting metal slabs. Combined with Pilar Limosner’s black costumes that gave the work a “Flash Gordon” futuristic look.


Rioult masterfully manipulated the Stravinsky score. There was nothing haphazard in his choreographic approach. It was his understanding of the music and his ability to develop an original interpretation of the story that produced a thoroughly satisfying new rendition of this early twentieth century classic.

The world premiere of The Violet Hour was inspiring by the poetry of T.S. Eliot. The choreographic process was built on a series of improvisations developed by the dancers without the assistance of the music. The studies were then organized, manipulated and literally sculpted by Rioult to create this work. This approach was a departure from his usual method of choreographing and in this case successfully produced a fresh new work. This process is similar to one often used by one of Rioult’s mentors Martha Graham, whose company he performed with as a principal dancer.

“I intend to abandon the structured approach I typically use when creating a dance,” stated Rioult. “Instead of letting the music drive the process, I have asked the dancers to improvise in silence, responding to images and poetic references I have selected from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. While this is a stark departure for me, it is a thrilling journey for the company. I have shared the same images and references with Joan Tower, a composer whom I’ve long admired.”

The Violet Hour was presented in two sections, each establishing its own mood, visual imagery and dynamic; and was performed to live music with composer Tower on piano and cellist Raman Ramakrishnan. The first sections had a sparse and empty, as opposed to open, spatial look and feeling. The dancers began running, walking and moving across the stage from right to left. At times they would linger long enough to form small groupings that resembled a sculptural landscape. The dancers would engaged in brief encounters, and then retreat back to the emptiness, which created a sense of aloneness.

The second movement, in contrast, began in a cluster that was centered upstage. The group remained in this configuration using shorter and tighter upper body movements and isolated gestures. There was still an impersonal feeling about the interactions between the dancers. A solo or duo would emerge from the “cluster” and briefly establish an independent sculptural image, which was juxtaposed to the group. These more individual and smaller groups created imagery that was slightly surreal, and in contrast to the larger body of dancers.

The theme that remained throughout the work was a feeling of aloneness. The opening section gives us the feeling of isolation in a wasteland; the solitary feeling was due to the physical distance between the dancers and their spatial relationships on stage. The second movement was the isolation of being in a crowd of strangers, similar to the angst of living alone in a big city. Rioult was able to use these spatial relationships and the imagery they produced to take the audiences on two distinctly different journeys that shared a similar emotion and outcome.

RIOULT was founded in 1994 and will soon celebrate their twentieth anniversary. This season was a brilliant evening of thoughtful and well-crafted dance. Pascal Rioult is a choreographer who should be commended for his high level of artistic integrity and clarity. Much continued success.

In Photos: 1) Ensemble 2) Sierra Glasheen and company 3) Ensemble 4) Ensemble

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