Rioult might not have the largest of repertoires, but what this modern dance company does wield is first-class. Its works are perfect packages: musically astute, visually arresting and kinetically exciting.
At Kaatsbaan International Dance Center, Artistic Director Pascal Rioult (pronounced RE-you) proved again that his company is among the best of the best.
This past weekend, Rioult was winding down its residency there. And as part of their stay, they offered audiences a peek at their latest in a series of Bach-inspired dances. Yet titled, this work-in-progress to “Brandenburg Concerto #6” will have its official premiere at the Joyce Theatre in June. Rioult introduced the audience to the piece, with a disclaimer that the first section needed more work.
That’s hardly the case, but Rioult strives for perfection. And the audience was gratified by his efforts with the program that also showcased another Bach piece in his series, “City,” as well as works from his Stravinsky and Ravel line of dances.
Of those three composers, Rioult connects most deeply with Stravinsky and Ravel. The program opened with Rioult’s take of Stravinsky’s “Duo Concertant,” a piece of music made known to the dance world through George Balanchine.
This will sound sacrilegious, but Rioult’s rendering of “Duo Concertant,” titled “Black Diamond,” is finer than Balanchine’s. That’s because Rioult digs deeper into the music. His dancers, the exquisite Penelope Gonzalez and Charis Haines, become the music — they are the piano and the violin.
That was Balanchine’s intention too, but over the years, the ballet has grown weary. Rioult’s, with the dancers dressed in black and performing on raised platforms, is combustible.
These sparks — wrought by the contrast between syncopated fits and seamless fluidity — keeps the eye eager for more.
Of course Gonzalez has an otherworldly pull on the audience. No matter what she dances, she is the focus. Though a tiny dancer, her stage presence is formidable.
Sadly, she doesn’t dance as much as she used to. Gonzalez’s only appearance was in “Duo Concertant.” Yet her absence gives other Rioult dancers a chance to shine.
Other favorites are Jane Sato and Michael Spencer Phillips, who distinguished themselves as a dynamo in both Bach works. “City,” to “Sonata for Violin and Piano #6 in G Major,” depicts the day-in-the-life of an urbanite — the morning rush, the isolation of toil and the connections, though superficial, made in the evening when the all-important work is done.
This dance and the Brandenburg excerpt were created at Kaatsbaan. While well-formed, it appears that Rioult is still seeking a more rapt allegiance to Bach. He will get there, as he always does.
The company concluded its performance with Rioult’s “Bolero,” to the pulsating music by Ravel.
Starting upstage, the group work, in which the dancers move robotically in military formations, has a remote feel. But as it continues, the dancers loom as they move forward and peel away, posing or rotating on one leg.
With a precision that is fascinating, they end at the edge of the stage, as if challenging the audience to question their might. No one could. Rioult and company are undeniable champs of modern dance.