Sunday, November 17, 2013

Rioult Dance presents founder's inspired interpretations of Bach

The abstract energy of J.S. Bach's instrumental compositions tends to suggest the cooperative life-force that keeps organisms going. When a master of contemporary dance turns toward the 18th-century Saxon master, something elemental in that energy can be translated into a myriad interactions, gestures and physical self-definition.

In the second of two performances Saturday in the Tarkington at the Center for the Performing Arts,  Rioult Dance NY presented founder Pascal Rioult's "Views of the Fleeting World,"  "City"  and "Celestial Tides," accompanied by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra.

Rioult dancers performed  "Celestial Tides" at the Tarkington.
The longest work occupied the first half. "Views of the Fleeting World" is set in nine movements, each using a string-orchestra setting of a Bach fugue.  It's a blend of natural imagery and its interpretation in terms of the human form —  singly, doubly and in company. Sounds of nature play as interludes to the music, all of it drawn from Bach's late masterpiece, "The Art of Fugue," a kind of monograph on the form whose possibilities he explored more thoroughly than any other composer. Projections on the back wall represent natural patterns of sky, trees, rain and rivers.

The variety-in-unity of the music, based as each fugue is on the same generating material, provides an analogue to the choreography's essential style throughout. Within the sustained pulse of the music,  Bach folds in a wealth of rhythmic elaboration as the contrapuntal lines sustain and comment upon each other. Rioult works from this to vary the pace of movement, particularly exploiting slow, stretching, scooping, and twisting motions, sometimes as if the dancers were moving in a slightly thicker medium than air.

In "Views of the Fleeting World," he plays at first with grouping and dividing the nine dancers. The work's "overture" emphasizes one aspect of "fleeting" in that imitative steps pass quickly before our eyes in the midst of ceaseless individual variation. It's titled "Orchard," and the dancers ripen into prominence in a shared process that embraces individuality as well. From there, the athleticism of the choreography and sporadic oppositional arrangements of the troupe increase, cresting in "Wild Horses," the work's third movement.

The initial "upside-down" treatment of the fugal subject ushers in the first of three wonderful duets, "Dusk," which opens up space for Jane Sato's tender solo in "Sudden Rain."  In this progression, it became clear that Rioult's choreography is peculiarly egalitarian, treating all four limbs as independent actors, equally capable of expression and carving out space.

Even torso and hips sometimes act like extremities. Bending, twisting, thrusting, and withdrawing are balanced in a rich vocabulary of convex and concave postures. The costumes, particularly the pleated red skirts both men and women wore in some segments and the recurring use of billowing harem pants, accentuated the spectrum of flow that such postures enabled.

The other two duets, including one daringly floor-bound and poised between tension and relaxation, came after "Night Ride," with the statuesque Anastasia Sorozcynski in an intense spotlight as the dancers move in shadows around her. She slowly becomes ennobled as the huntress Diana, the moon goddess, driving her pack of hounds off in characteristic pursuit of game. The finale has a nice culminative flair. Titled "Flowing River," it builds upon Bach's churning music as the company sums up the fleeting emphasis of the work's title.

"City," a lively quartet, put in witty terms the pressures big-city dwellers respond to and attempt to neutralize — or even transcend — in order to keep their humanity. The Sonata for Violin and Piano in G major is the vehicle for Rioult's urban fantasy, compounded of anxiety and purposeful movements that suggest the assertiveness the work world requires and the way the stance that results sometimes implodes in self-doubt. Projections behind the dancers that pan up and down the facades of skyscrapers increasingly created the exhilarating optical illusion that the stage was rising, lifting the four marginally triumphant figures with it.

Bach's Sixth Brandenburg Concerto, the one for lower strings, made a stunning vehicle for the Rioult troupe in "Celestial Tides."  The slow movement displayed a signal aspect of the Rioult choreography — two couples, paired off usually as same-sex partners, danced in a manner that brought to mind a Zen rock garden. Dancers relate not only through contact but also by shaping the space between and around them. They are the rocks; the curved lines in the sand that echo the rocks' positions are the space in between, which becomes almost substantial as it resonates with their bodies.

Of course, all dance defines the space through which bodies move — a supreme achievement of classical ballet. But Rioult's way seems more painstaking and deliberate in such sculpting, requiring a discipline, intricacy and lack of strain that reflects credit on his excellent dancers.

The fast outer movements, also brilliantly played by the ICO under the baton of James Caraher, sealed the admiration in which one holds their performance here. There was a brief passage in the finale, with the troupe's side-stepping progression toward the wing in a panoply of individual flourishes, that sent chills up my spine. The "fleeting world" had achieved a unique concentration and specificity, without cliche, that seemed to sum up the beauty of Rioult.