A Conversation With Pascal Rioult

Jerry Hochman

RIOULT Dance NY is in the process of transitioning into one of only a relative few dance companies that owns its own brick-and-mortar home – The Rioult Dance Center – in New York City. In consideration of that milestone, and also mindful of its upcoming season at New York’s Joyce Theater that begins on May 30, I recently sat down with Pascal Rioult, a former Principal Dancer with the Martha Graham Company and co-founder (with his wife, former Graham Company Principal Dancer Joyce Herring) and artistic director of RIOULT Dance NY, for a wide-ranging conversation that included, among other things, his thoughts on choreographing and criticism, changing career paths, running a dance company, what he looks for in dancers, working with Martha Graham and Mikhail Baryshnikov, the dream of his company’s new home coming true, and not a little nostalgia … for both of us


JH – There are a lot of things I’d like to go over with you, but first, maybe a not so obvious question.  You choreograph; I write reviews. Do you have an opinion of reviewers that you can share without using too many expletives?

PR – Yes. Or naming names.  [laughs]

Of course, I have nothing against people critiquing and liking or not liking what I do or what we do.

To me, there are two groups of reviewers. There are people who will critique but will still try to advance the field, whether the critic specifically liked that work or not. They try to get their readers to like and appreciate dance and understand better what we do, and encourage them to go by themselves and educate themselves. And there are other critics who are highly critical in a negative sense, which sometimes, in my opinion, does a disservice to the field in general.  

So that’s, to me, where I make the difference.  Otherwise I don’t really care, to be honest with you.

I say that, and every artist cares, of course. But I’ve stopped reading a lot of reviews. You don’t need to be affected by them.  Praise is great, but being destroyed, for an artist, is very painful and not constructive. And therefore mostly I’ve just stopped reading them because, you know, I have to do what I do. And one of the great dangers is that you listen to a critic in the sense that it influences your work.

JH – Have you come across any reviews, or had any reviews brought to your attention, that have been critical, and that caused you maybe to reconsider something that you did?

PR – It happened a couple of times many years ago. Again, it has to be constructive. I can look at it and say ‘oh – there’s a point there’ and I will think about it. But most likely I will not change my work, because it’s what I do. Not even the greatest don’t make mistakes. I worked with the great genius, Martha Graham, but believe me not all her pieces were great pieces. And this is true for any artist. Sometimes you miss; fine, but it’s your work and that’s what you do; and you go on to the next work, but you don’t revisit and try to figure out how can I make it more appropriate to this audience or to this critic. We just can’t work that way; you can’t double-guess. As an artist you have to do what you believe in. It may not by YOUR truth, but it’s MY truth.

JH – Sometimes I feel, when I’m reviewing something, that I have to be careful for exactly the reason you said.

Anyway, let’s segue into choreographing.

Is there any key to the way you choose a dance to choreograph?  Does it come from something you see? From the music? From an idea about a particular subject? From wherever?

Pascal Rioult and members of the company rehearsing his new work, "Nostalghia," for RIOULT Dance NY Photo courtesy RIOULT Dance NY

Pascal Rioult and members of the company
rehearsing his new work, “Nostalghia,” for RIOULT Dance NY
Photo courtesy RIOULT Dance NY

PR – All of the above.  I have a little basket full of things I’d like to do; or of ideas that interest me; and I go through the list and pick one for various reasons. But it comes from a lot of different things. It can be instigated by a pure idea, an intellectual idea – a piece about this or that subject. Or I can listen to music and hear something in the music and have these [pauses for emphasis] visions of a dance. It can be going to a museum and seeing an exhibition and being inspired by it. Or it can be just being in the street and seeing something happen or things that strike me as interesting.

What’s more important to me is how those different fields of inspiration come together into one piece, which is what I find fascinating. Sometimes it’s one track – but most of the time it’s a lot of things, and I like to put it all together like into a good meal or a good stew. You have a little of this; a little of that, and you taste and then you use a little bit more of that, and then the whole thing comes together.

An artist has to work on instinct mostly and trust his instinct. There’s a large part of the subconscious to how things come out, but I always figure out what it’s about and why I’m doing this, and depending on the piece I try to get all this to come into my consciousness and then from there into the piece. Hopefully that translates into something the audience can understand and relate to.

JH – Do you allow a particular amount of time to either complete a piece or give up on it?

PR – Oh yeah. [laughs] Sure. But I don’t give up much, because time is money, unfortunately.  

As the great Balanchine said about inspiration,“The best inspiration is a deadline.” So a deadline is really important. So I have a premiere on May 30, and I’ve got to finish by that time. And sometimes it’s very close to this, and sometimes I plan my year so that I finish earlier. But that’s the deadline.

I don’t work really fast. So I know, based on the length of the piece, how much time I need to give myself. I’ve heard that Paul Taylor comes to his studio and says he needs to do one minute a day. I can’t do that; go that fast. Or like writers – they go and write from 7 a.m. to noon every day; they just do that. That’s when they get their inspiration; that’s how they get their work done. But that wouldn’t work in our case because we have people who are paid to be certain hours of the day in a studio, you can’t really say, “Oh I’m inspired now, let’s call all these people.” So it is pretty structured in that way, and so I feel very comfortable giving myself tasks and time limitations. I have to organize my calendar around that to create a new piece, and then work on other things, like the preparation for the touring.

JH – How long did it take you to do Fire in the Sky, as an example?

Members of RIOULT Dance NY in "Fire in the Sky" Photo by Nina Wurtzel

Members of RIOULT Dance NY
in “Fire in the Sky”
Photo by Nina Wurtzel

PR – Not too long, actually –  about 10-12 weeks, five days a week; half a day. So maybe 3 or so hours a day, 5 days a week, so that’s 15 hours a week maybe, for about 10-12 weeks.

JH – Is that about standard?

PR – Yes, for a piece of that length – about 30 minutes. Some pieces take longer, and some sections go fast; some go slow. The dancers helped quite a bit on that piece, which made it go a bit faster. But yeah, that’s my standard.

And in terms of that, there are different parts to the creation of a work. Think of a painter. First, you’ve got to do some research, but that’s not included. For me, I usually do it in the summer, when I’m on vacation, taking time off in the woods somewhere, thinking about my piece and trying to put it together. Get the structure; get the ideas, so when I come to the studio, I’m prepared – most of the time. Then there’s a period of sketching, where you try what we call “materials”. You try movement; look at it and say, “this doesn’t fit,” or maybe it does. Then you start putting it all together; put the structure together. Then when you’ve got the structure together, when you get your sections and your piece together, then you still need more time to start carving away things you don’t like, making things look better and so forth.  It’s just like a writer.

JH – I was just going to say that. It’s like what I do, and I assume most writers do, just on a much larger scale. With the reviews, you write and then you cut away the fat – at least you try to.

PR – Exactly. It’s exactly the same. We try to.

JH – Aside from those you danced with, are there choreographers who particularly influenced you?

PR – [pauses to think] Yes. George Balanchine, definitely.

JH – In what way?

PR – The musicality, and the abstraction definitely. The architecture.  I was already from the start very musical, and thought very architecturally about pieces; very structurally. So that was instinctive to me. And when I saw his work, I said to myself, “Oh yes. That’s it.”  And to be honest with you, my feelings were very much with Martha [Graham], with modern dance, emotional type of dance, so when I first saw those pieces [by Balanchine], I really didn’t like them at all. It was so cold.

And then I started to really understand it and appreciate it. I REALLY got it; I REALLY loved what he did.

And then other choreographers. Martha was of course my main influence, but also Jiri Kylian was a major influence for me. Also a little bit of Maurice Bejart, strangely enough. Also, in terms of his imagination and musicality, Mats Ek. Those are the most, I’d say. I came to dance late, so I don’t have a great culture as a matter of fact.  I got it later on, of course, as I got interested to know more, but I didn’t come to dance with a great dance culture.

JH: Well, I came almost completely blind. My initial exposure to dance was what I saw on Ed Sullivan when I was a kid.

PR – [laughs] Yeah.

JH – It didn’t really interest me. What I saw looked dull and pointless. And then many years later, after being persuaded by Clive Barnes’s [NY} Times reviews, I decided on a lark to see what “real” ballet was like, and it turned out to be an incredible program. ABT. And shortly after, I went looking for other dance companies also, just to see what they were like. And I went to New York City Ballet, and I saw Balanchine.

PR – Yeah.

JH –  But like you, I wasn’t taken with Balanchine initially because I didn’t GET it. I liked Robbins more.

PR – Yes. Me too.

JH – And then I got into it.

PR – Yes. When you understand, it’s masterful. And I went through phases. I started closer to Martha, of course. That’s what I knew. And then I got into a period that was way more abstract, and then Balanchine was a very important figure for me; he really influenced me. 

Pascal Rioult and members of the company rehearsing his new work, "Nostalghia," for RIOULT Dance NY Photo courtesy of RIOULT Dance NY

Pascal Rioult and members of the company
rehearsing his new work, “Nostalghia,”
for RIOULT Dance NY
Photo courtesy of RIOULT Dance NY

JH – If you had to describe your style of dance, how would you describe it?

Let me rephrase that. Is there a way to describe it?

PR – There’s a few ways to describe it. I don’t think there’s one way. I think it’s very physical; number one. And it’s musical. It’s very much modern dance, but it’s also me. I think the work is mostly abstract, but there’s always an undercurrent of emotional content. It’s not narrative – maybe I’ve done a couple of narrative pieces, but it’s not narrative.

JH – But you’ve got pieces that have a narrative content – at least to me. You may not have intended it.

PR – Yeah, yeah. It’s mainly abstract, but there’s always an emotional or content motive. In that sense, there’s maybe a “narrative.”

JH – To paraphrase Balanchine, you put a man and a woman together on stage and you have a story.

PR – Well, exactly. Yes. And I do that a lot.

JH – When I first saw your company, I was impressed that I couldn’t see a particular orthodox “style,” which is important to me. I think a single particular style doesn’t apply in every situation.

Anyway, what I saw – you may not take this as complimentary, but I intended it that way – was that your choreography was more retro than cutting edge. Not everything is an angle or a twitch or a squirm. There’s a lot of lyricism to a number of your pieces. Not all of them, but a number of them.

PR – Yeah, sure.

JH – And I see in some of them some ballet. Is that something that you consciously imbue in your style, or is it just the way it worked out?

RIOULT Dance NY in "Bolero" Photo Basil Childers

RIOULT Dance NY in “Bolero”
Photo Basil Childers

PR – It’s the way it worked out, but I totally agree with what you see; you’re right about that.

There are two reasons I like the work to be varied all the time. One is for my audience; I don’t want to bore them with always the same thing. Even if I’m successful at it, I don’t want to keep repeating it.

And two, is as an artist.  If you want to grow, you’ve got to change. You have to challenge yourself to do something different. So I try as much as I can to challenge myself. We do Fire in the Sky now, but when I did Bolero everybody loved Bolero and said, “Can you do another piece like that?” Well, no, because I need to find other ways to express myself. So I always do that.

As far as technique – I do use what I call the essence of the Graham technique. So you very rightly said you can’t always recognize it in terms of a style, but the technique, which is different from style, the technique itself belongs to what she did. I just took what I think is essential to it; made it mine, which is what you said, totally, and try to make it also contemporary so it speaks to people nowadays, which I think it still does.

And then, because I think I’m a little more classical than Martha in a sense more of a Balanchine neo-classical style, not like ballet, but classical in a sense architecturally, I will most likely build something in a classical way more than in a Graham-esque way. That’s the way I see things. So yes, it’s a little more classical than [your typical] modern dance. And sometimes also I use some ballet though I have very little training in that. My dancers do, they have to have training in both.

Sara Elizabeth Seger of RIOULT Dance NY in "Cassandra's Curse" Photo Eric Bandiero

Sara Elizabeth Seger of RIOULT Dance NY
in “Cassandra’s Curse”
Photo Eric Bandiero

JH – And then there are pieces that seem to reflect more of Graham, like the Trilogy, the mythological Trilogy.

PR – Well, maybe. I don’t know. Yeah, maybe it’s true. It’s also the mythological theme, which recalls what she did. I stayed away from those themes for years and years – even though It’s something that I love intellectually and that I loved to do when I was dancing with Martha – to avoid comparisons with her, until I did that first one, and then I decided to do that trilogy.

Within that program, though, the three pieces are very different.

JH –  Definitely. Speaking of your students, you mentioned that ballet training is a requirement. How do you go about selecting your dancers? Is there any specific criteria you look for?

PR – No. I mean, yes, of course I do. But it’s an open audition; anybody can come. We require that they have a very high level of training, in modern dance, and some ballet as well. They get in a room, we go through the usual audition. I will take the best dancers I see. That’s the first criteria.

When it gets down to the best few, then I look at potential – to try to figure out the potential for creativity and artistry of a person. So it’s not just the technical ability – which is very high, physically – but then after that we go into some pieces in repertory that shows what they have to give me. I need to feel that there’s a person there, more than a dancer. That’s important to my work. That was also the case with Martha I think. You can always have people in the back, who make a pretty picture, but there’s got to be a person to me. And that person has to grow into a real artist – the human being behind the dancer.

JH – And from my point of view – a viewer and a reviewer – the more I get to see a dancer, the more I think I know a little bit about the dancer as a person – although, of course, I don’t.

PR – Yes.

JH – You get to recognize them by what they do and how they do it, and by the impression they convey, as well as physically.

PR – Sure. Absolutely. It’s very important that you have to see the person. It’s true for the dancer – for any performer – and it’s true for the choreographer too. I’m not a critic, but this is my criterion for good work and – not so good: if I can see the person. If I think that just by seeing the work I can understand the person who created it or the performer who’s dancing it – that’s amazing.

Pascal Rioult teaching at Grier School Photo courtesy of RIOULT Dance NY

Pascal Rioult teaching at Grier School
Photo courtesy of RIOULT Dance NY

JH – Sure. I would talk about certain specific dancers but I don’t think that’s appropriate for this. But they do create a particular impression above and beyond the choreography that they’re executing.

PR – Absolutely. The great Sir Laurence Olivier said “I just say the lines” – and that’s true – you have to be respectful, to say the lines, do the movement, do the choreography.  But we know there’s something else to it than that. The artistry has to come from the way you do it.

And it’s very important to me that the dancers I choose are integrated into the group. The sense of community in the work is very, very important. So there is no “star.” They really belong, and all are there to say the same thing.

JH – Very briefly, to discuss your background.

Most people know you came to the US from France in ’81 on a fellowship from the French Ministry of Culture. I read that you were a track and field star.

PR – Uh-huh.

JH – And the connection between track and field and dance is … comprehensible.

PR – [laughs] Sort of.

JH – But what’s the connection, if any, between going for a master’s degree in science education to contemporary dance?

PR – None. Seriously, none whatsoever. It was a mistake.

I mean, I had a certain path that I thought at the time was going to be my path. There were two things – my sprinting ability, my career in sports; and preparing myself for a university career as a professor.

And then I fell in love with dance. In the real sense. Totally. Head over heels. Within an hour and a half my life story changed, and everything else, including that career – master of science education – became totally irrelevant and absolutely unimportant.

JH – Was it some dance that you saw while you were in France?

PR – It wasn’t a performance.

So this is to tell you how interesting and how true it was. It wasn’t just that phenomenal dancers were on stage and the lights etc. It was to see people move; just to dance. It was a contemporary dance class in Paris. I went to watch this class – I was brought by a friend of mine who was a professional dancer. We had talked about my love of dance – the kind of dance that’s reflected in Fire in the Sky, for example. That kind of dance.  And I saw this one class and that was it. And I said, “I’ve just got to do this.” I just felt it.

JH – That sounds, in a different way, of course, but like the way I was hit when I saw my first ballet performance.

PR – Yes. It’s a physical response. It’s not that “oh, it’s so beautiful,” or “they’re so great,” or “how great it would be to be on stage.”  It’s not that.

JH – Yes. But with me it was an internal physical response; I could feel myself transported to the stage; doing what I was seeing. At least I had the good sense at that time to know I couldn’t really do that.

PR – I really couldn’t either, at first. But I was so determined that I was going to do that. I tend to throw myself sometimes into things when I believe in them without thinking about them too much, which is still the case. And that’s what I did.

Pascal Rioult rehearsing members of RIOULT Dance NY Photo by Sofia Negron Courtesy of RIOULT Dance NY

Pascal Rioult rehearsing members of RIOULT Dance NY
Photo by Sofia Negron
Courtesy of RIOULT Dance NY

JH – What drew you to Martha?

PR – That took a longer way, because, pretty much like you, I had no dance culture whatsoever in France. So I didn’t know. I knew her name, but that was about it.

So I came with the French mental view of dance in those days. We didn’t know the term “modern dance” but we knew “contemporary dance” – which was Merce Cunningham and post-modernism. Also Lucinda Childs, and Trisha Brown. In France, they’re god and goddesses of the dance. Martha was melodramatic stuff; old fashioned stuff. So, like a good French person, I went to Cunningham because I thought that that was what I was going to do. And I worked really hard in that studio to eventually do Cunningham. And then I realized, thank God I realized, instinctively again – all this is instinctive – that that was not for me. And if it was not me, I shouldn’t be doing it. And I had to find who was me.

And from other teachers and choreographers I learned about that “tree” so to speak, the Martha tree, as I call it. I found that “tree,” and went back to its roots. And then I was home. Oh yeah, this was me.

JH – Was it May O’Donnell?

PR – Paul Sanasardo, first. He was also a former Graham dancer. He came from that tradition. Then of course May O’Donnell, who worked with Martha, but she also did her own thing. She was much more lyrical – I drew that part from her, a lot more.  And then from there I found my way back to the source. To Martha. That was who I was.

JH – Was there anything specific about Martha’s choreography that drew you to her?

PR – Yes. Two things: physicality and dramatic tension; emotions. I didn’t know at the time, but I knew instinctively the dictum that every movement is born from an emotion, a feeling, a desire, and not just an abstract body shape. To me that felt right, and the physicality because of my past, of course, that felt really right. I loved the physicality.

JH – When did you join the Graham Company?

PR – In 1985. I stayed 9-10 years.

JH – Then I may not have seen you dance with Graham. I don’t recall for sure. But I certainly saw Graham – that was one of my early “experiments” – let’s see what Graham is like. My initial Graham exposure was, of all things, Clytemnestra – on Broadway.

PR – On Broadway?

JH –  Yes. It was quite an incredible, unforgettable experience.

PR – I agree. I did that piece too.

Mikhail Baryshnikov, Joyce Herring, and Pascal Rioult in Martha Graham's "El Penitente" Photo by Nan Melville Courtesy of RIOULT Dance NY

Mikhail Baryshnikov, Joyce Herring, and Pascal Rioult
in Martha Graham’s “El Penitente”
Photo by Nan Melville
Courtesy of RIOULT Dance NY

JH – You danced with Baryshnikov while you were with Graham, in El Penitente.  What was it like working with Baryshnikov?

PR – Wonderful.

JH – [laughs] I wouldn’t expect you to say anything else.

PR – Well, it could have been really bad. But my wife and I had the privilege to work with a great artist and a great human being. That was a lesson. Martha was that way too, but it was much harder to get to the human being. She was such an icon, and driven, especially toward the end of her life.  

He, surprisingly for one of the greatest dancers on earth, was so human, so generous with us. He came to Martha and to us with all humility, knowing that he didn’t know; that he couldn’t do what we were doing as well as we did, and he didn’t pretend. He got on his knees, like everybody, in front of Martha, like a little boy eager to learn. And even today, I think that’s one of the most remarkable things about him, he’s eager to learn; to change. He didn’t arrive at his peak and try to use that. He was willing to try something different. Everything. So this was great.

And the pure simplicity of his training. He could turn faster, jump higher, than anybody else. And then he came and warmed up, and it was like, “that’s it?” He does a few plies, a lot of tendus, very relaxed, and he’s ready, and goes on stage.  That’s amazing. And of course on stage, he’s transformed. It was wonderful.

He’s stayed very friendly with us, stays in touch. So it’s really great to see that – to see that a “star,” if you will, is still a very humble person.

JH – You turned to choreography, obviously, at a particular point. Other than “end of dance career”, was there anything beyond that that led you to choreograph?

Pascal Rioult teaching at Grier School Photo courtesy of RIOULT Dance NY

Pascal Rioult teaching at Grier School
Photo courtesy of RIOULT Dance NY

PR – It was “end of career.” I mean, I kept dancing for awhile after I started to choreograph, but after Martha passed, there was no way I’d be able to dance for anybody else.

So I had to try my hand at other things – like teaching. I wanted to stay in the field because I loved it so much. As Martha used to say, “If you’re chosen, you’ll be sorry.”  That was Martha’s idea that you don’t choose to do that; you’re chosen. She was right. I was chosen.

I first tried two or three little pieces, and I got the bug. It was very clear to me that I had to do it. I had something to say; and I was the one to say it.

JH – I read that you choreographed before you formed your own company.

PR – Yes.

JH – And that you had a showing at Riverside Church in ‘91?

PR – Yes. They had this dance festival, which was really great. A beautiful theater too.

JH – I didn’t see that program, unfortunately. But I used to live in that area long before you arrived here, and those first few years in the mid-1970s were eye-opening. I decided to go to a program at Riverside Church; didn’t know what I was going to see, and saw this incredible program by a company I’d never heard of called The Joyce Trisler Dance Company.

PR – Oh, of course, yes, sure.

JH –  And they blew me away; they just blew me away. And I went back to see them there one or two more times. I still remember those programs.

PR – All those great companies were there. It was a great place.

Pascal Rioult and members of the company rehearsing his new work, "Nostalghia," for RIOULT DANCE NY [the backdrop has no relation to the new work] Photo courtesy of RIOULT Dance NY

Pascal Rioult and members of the company
rehearsing his new work, “Nostalghia,” for RIOULT DANCE NY
[the backdrop has no relation to the new work]Photo courtesy of RIOULT Dance NY

JH – Tell me about running your own company. In 25 words or less. [laughs]

PR – It’s hell. [laughs]. It is really difficult, and becoming more and more difficult – as you can see, there are less and less companies during our time that are able to sustain themselves.

I tell everybody it’s both being an artist and being a small business owner. It’s exactly the same.

I spend 50% of my time – it’s probably more than that now – not doing what I want to do, but running a business. But there’s really no other way. I’m lucky in a way that I have a head on my shoulders for that, and I feel very sorry for those choreographers – and there are many great choreographers – who just don’t have a head for business, because it’s very hard. But I believe in that model of a single choreographer building a company around you.

JH – As opposed to just choreographing and shopping your work around or looking for commissions.

PR – I did it for a little bit, and I hated it. I always wanted to bring my own dancers in and choreograph on them and then put it on the other company, which isn’t fair or even practical. I just didn’t like it.

JH – I suppose you walk a tightrope no matter which way you go. But once you’re established, I imagine it’s a little bit easier.

PR – A little bit. I just like the idea that you have a stable group of people there for you, who understand what you’re doing, and that you can train them and grow them and model them to what you want instead of getting people who you don’t know from right or left. But it is tough, yes. The business is really hard these days; there’s less money; less dance everywhere. But there’s still competition, more competition in a sense. But we’re still there. So that’s good.

JH – What advice would you give to somebody who’s in the position now that you were in back in ’94?

PR – [pauses] You know, I always say the same thing. I don’t know if it’s good advice, but if it’s what you feel you have to do, you have to do it. Just like in life, you can’t double guess yourself. You have to go for it.  And then if it works, great. It’s not going to be easy – as the great Anna Sokolow used to say, “nobody said it’s going to be easy.”

JH – That was another one of my early “experiments” – I went to see Anna Sokolow’s company at a performance in, I think, the Village [Greenwich Village].

PR – That was one brilliant choreographer, really, but she didn’t have that business kind of mind or wasn’t that interested in keeping a group together.

So it’s hard. But if that’s what you feel you have to do, you have to at least try to make it work. And hopefully you do, but if you don’t, you find another way to do it. Put a group together and do a project, and then stop. And then put another group together and do another project and stop, or get yourself hired by groups that are there.

RIOULT Dance Center (artist rendering; street view) Courtesy of Architecture Outfit

RIOULT Dance Center
(artist rendering; street view)
Courtesy of Architecture Outfit

JH – I’m sure I know the answer to this, but how important is it for you to have your company have its own home, which you’re about to have?

PR – It’s huge. A dream come true. We’ve been most of our career, 23 years and more before that, being nomads, moving from place to place.  You get used to it, like it’s a normal thing to do. But it shouldn’t be. If you’re a writer, it’s ok. You can write anywhere. But if you’re a banker, say, and they tell you one day to go to this branch, and another day to go to a different one, and another day to a different one, it’s not a great way to work, and there’s not a heart at the center of it. And that’s something I lived with when I was at Graham, or if you’re with City Ballet, that there’s a place you can call home, where that spirit is in there. So I think this is very important, that it’s going to change a lot of things.

But on top of having a home for the company, first for the dancers and the whole organization together finally, we’ll be able to work from there to bring people toward us instead of always going out. Opening a school is a long-term goal that we had. The company is still the center and the most important – my work and my company – but the school is going to bring an influx of both people and resources. And I think that’s what makes the school very vibrant, when there’s that creative energy there for people, for students, to look at.

JH – When is it supposed to open?

PR – We should be fully operational by the fall of 2018.  The Center will become a destination for professional dancers, choreographers, dance students in every stage of their careers, and dance companies in need of affordable rehearsal and performing space. Our aim is to create a place percolating with creativity, a place to dig deep into the shared human experience, create art, and inspire.

JH – So it’s in Long Island City?

PR – Actually more Astoria. On the edge of Astoria, near Long Island City. On Steinway Street, where the Steinway Street subway stop is.

JH – And will there be performance space there too?

PR – Yes. We’ll have five studios, actually. And the big one, a very large studio, we can transform into a black box theater fully equipped for seating 110 people. It will also give us a place to show work, to do performances, and will give the school a place to show work by the students and young choreographers. And it will also be a place for the community to rent and do performances. There aren’t many spaces in that area. So it will serve the company, us, it will serve the dance field and the community, with the rental availability of rehearsal studios and performance space, and will serve the training of dancers in modern dance, which is very important to us.

Polina Nazaykinskaya and Pascal Rioult rehearsing "Nostalghia," his new work for RIOULT Dance NY Photo courtesy of RIOULT Dance NY

Polina Nazaykinskaya and Pascal Rioult
rehearsing “Nostalghia,” his new work
for RIOULT Dance NY
Photo courtesy of RIOULT Dance NY

JH – For your New York season at the Joyce, you’re going to be choreographing a world premiere.  Can you tell us a little bit about it?

PR – It’s called Nostalghia, with a Russian spelling “ghi.”’, I took my inspiration from a great filmmaker- I was a big film person – Andrei Tarkovsky, who’s considered the Russian Bergman. Both of them have been a very big influence on my psyche, and my work generally. It has lots to do with time and space and memories and those kinds of things. It’s not going to have a clear narrative – so people can bring into it what they think.

And it’s within a context. Like the “three Greek myths trilogy” we talked about, it’s a trilogy– but this overall program will be based on the subject of music written for dance – the fact that some of the greatest pieces of music that people go to a concert hall to listen to were actually commissioned for dance. People don’t even know that Bolero, for example, was commissioned for dance, and La Valse, The Three Cornered Hat, the Stravinsky pieces of course, Afternoon of a Faun, going back of course to Tchaikovsky.

So I had that in the back of my mind. And I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to do a program that talks about that. I decided to do three periods of it: the classical period, and I chose Tchaikovsky, who wrote such great, great music for dance – the program will begin with my Dream Suite, to Tchaikovsky; and then the period of the Ballet Russes, when Diaghilev commissioned those memorable pieces of music and dance, and I’ll use a piece I’ve previously done to Stravinsky – Les Noces, which was a masterpiece to me as choreographed by Nijinska; and then there will be the new contemporary piece. And since the other two composers are Russians who were contemporary during their time, I was intrigued by how young Russian composers these days would handle their rich classical heritage, as Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and other Russian composers did, while being also attuned to contemporary music – now, of course, the influence of rock and roll, of Western music.  

So I found this wonderful, very talented 30 year old Russian female composer, Polina Nazaykinskaya, who was trained at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow and for post-graduate at Yale, to write a contemporary piece that would address this idea of past and present and this general idea of nostalgia. How we live in a place in time that isn’t really right there – but maybe it is right there but which maybe we think of as a better place. We usually think of that as in the past, but it could also be in the future – nostalgia for some better place on Mars that we’re going to build out there after messing up this earth, for instance.


With that, and having messed things up myself by long overstaying my anticipated interview time, I let Rioult return to preparing his dancers for their next performance, for their New York season at the Joyce Theater, from May 30 through June 1 , and for the challenges and rewards that their new home will bring.