Center for the Arts, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
October 9, 2015
RIOULT Dance NY’s all-Bach program did not bestow the bliss I hoped it would. As it turned out, one Bach piece would have been enough. Sitting through four successive works to Bach, all with similar choreography and busy projections behind the dancers, proved to be too much.
In Views of the Fleeting World, inspired by Hiroshige’s Japanese woodblock prints and set to the composer’s Art of Fugue, dancers change costumes almost as many times as the projections on the scrim behind them morph from one decidedly un-Japanese woodblock print looking blur of colors to another. The only things that seem terribly Japanese about the Views of the Fleeting World, other than the title, are the sounds of nature that mark transitions between distinct sections. The audience is presented with the hum of summer insects, a rush of wind, a gurgling stream.
The dancers’ breathing appears integral to the choreography, and the movement is largely simple and highly structured. Indeed, this makes sense given that artistic director and choreographer Pascal Rioult was once a principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company. As the work unfolds, many images repeat. Arms push straight to the side, as if moving something away. A bent leg lifts and slowly heads back toward to the ground as if gum is stuck to the bottom of the foot. A hand pulls an invisible string outward from the center of the chest. The slowness and precision is at first beautiful, but Views of the Fleeting World overstays its welcome. The multitude of canons, where dancers take turns engaging in the same phrases in intervals, becomes tiresome.
Throughout the rest of the program, too, the repetition of not just Bach but a lot of the same movement (swishing hips, one arm lifted triumphantly above the head) and choreographic tools (overuse of canons, an abundance of movement facing the audience), as well as the often dizzying projections, made me weary.
In City, Brian Clifford Beasley’s projections of skyscrapers tilt and slide and zoom in and out with such frequency that it distracts from the four dancers. As if the projections impact them, the dancers sometimes appear unbalanced. They deliberately wriggle on one foot like circus performers on a tightrope. Yes, cities can be overwhelming and alienating, and yes, alternately, the hustle and bustle and anonymity a big city brings can be fun. This is hardly a new theme in the world of dance, and City does not add anything fresh to this topic, save the unsettling kaleidoscopic shifts of the projected cityscapes.
Polymorphous unsurprisingly utilizes projections, and again the projections steal the focus from the dancers. The costumes (Karen Young), lighting (David Finley), scenic design (Harry Feiner) and projection design (Brian Clifford Beasley), all cleverly embrace and reflect a black and white theme. Black lines elongate and cross on a backdrop of white, making a variety of engrossing designs. In short unitards with a white front and black back, four dancers compete with and play with their own shadows and also the projections, which include bright white images of their bodies executing the same movement a beat or two ahead or behind. At a different point, with their white fronts facing the audience, standing against a subtly patterned white backdrop, the dancers practically blend in with the scene in back of them. The choreography, unfortunately, does not add color. So mesmerizing are the projections that the dancers might not have been missed if they actually left the stage.
Finally, Celestial Tides offers more of the same. Bach and projections? Check. Again, the dancers, who wear teal costumes that evoke swimsuits, appear almost hidden during parts of the work as they move against a busy backdrop. The lighting maintains the patterns in the background on the surface of the dancers’ skin. This visual effect is nifty for a short period of time, until one becomes frustrated because one can barely make out the choreography. There is ample partnering in which the women are lifted and turned and spun around and around as if caught in a whirlpool. The movement is pretty, but not particularly innovative, and it falls flat against the dynamic projections.
I go to dance performances because I enjoy dancing. As absorbing as the projections here are, I’d prefer to see them in a museum installation. RIOULT Dance NY’s dancers are a pleasure to watch, but I feel the films, although ingenious, divert attention from their collective talent.