RIOULT Dance NY’s three-part program at the American Dance Festival, “Women on the Edge … Unsung Heroines of the Trojan War,” could easily serve as an introduction to modern dance for newcomers and those intimidated by pieces open to interpretation.
Choreographer Pascal Rioult’s triptych about Iphigenia, Helen of Troy and Cassandra has readily identifiable characters within a story line, detailed thorough narration. The works move progressively from concrete to abstract and from mythic to contemporary, giving audiences a comfortable grounding before leading them to more free-form approaches.
“Iphigenia” unfolds against a loose structure of wooden beams. After a flash-forward to Iphigenia’s sacrifice, she is is seen dancing joyously while her mother, Clytemnestra, attempts to teach her to be a strong woman. Iphigenia is set to wed Achilles but Agamemnon demands she be sacrificed to the gods so he may sail successfully to Troy.
Rioult’s choreography has classical precision, the sharp gestures and angular freezes reminiscent of Martha Graham (for whom he danced). Catherine Cooch’s Iphigenia moves beautifully and easily, her sensual pas de deux with Jere Hunt’s Achilles a highlight. Michael Torke’s score seems overly romantic and Rioult’s light touch lessens the tragedy, but the piece is satisfyingly unified.
Things quickly darken with “On Distant Shores … a redemption fantasy.” Helen is seen wandering among four lifeless soldiers. She grieves over her part in their deaths, fantasizing they’re alive while engaging them in loving, almost erotic couplings. In one section, the men’s militaristic stomps, body slaps and high jumps are impressively athletic. Charis Haines’s Helen is suitably sorrowful and frazzled, eventually realizing her fate is sealed. Aaron Jay Kernis’ somber, sometimes edgy score adds tragic mood.
The ADF-commissioned “Cassandra’s Curse” gives the plight of the Trojan soothsayer a contemporary veneer. See-through walls are moved by townspeople in modern garb, making a cage around Cassandra to contain her frantic warnings about the Trojan horse. Sara Elizabeth Seger puts out unstinting energy for Cassandra’s wild gesturings, made more intense by Richard Danielpour’s harshly dissonant score. Rioult’s choreography seems less focused and more repetitive here. The fuzzily projected films of current war zones overstate the obvious, as does the recorded narration by actress Kathleen Turner.
Although some aficionados may find these pieces too literally staged, they are expertly performed and should appeal to a broad audience.
What: RIOULT Dance NY, presented by American Dance Festival
Where: Reynolds Industries Theater, Bryan Center, Duke University, 125 Science Drive
When: 8 p.m. July 19-20
Info: 919-684-4444 or americandancefestival.org