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Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre

Self-presented at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Ave., NYC, June 14–19.

Pascal Rioult is perhaps the most adept and courageous choreographer working in mainstream modern dance today. His evening of work, presented at the Joyce Theater, opened with an excerpt from "Kansas City Orfeo," an ambitious work-in-progress. It investigates an artist's creative turmoil within the context of a retelling of the Orfeo and Eurydice myth, set in Prohibition-era Kansas City, accompanied by recorded music from Glück's 1762 opera "Orfeo" and jazz tunes evoking the gangster-ridden underworld of speakeasies, played live by Juilliard Jazz Ensemble.

Furthering Rioult's reputation for challenging established, cherished choreographic masterworks by boldly setting new modern-dance pieces to their classic scores, the evening continued with the world premiere of "Les Noces," a ravishing, danced deconstruction of sexual discovery, daringly set to the Stravinsky score famously interpreted by both Bronislava Nijinska and Jerome Robbins.

The evening concluded with a performance of Rioult's "Firebird," danced to the Stravinsky music commissioned for legendary choreographer Michel Fokine's beloved ballet. In Rioult's work, however, the magical bird is replaced by a child, and the elaborate fairy tales are discarded in favor of a bare-bones story about a community of darkened souls journeying toward re-enlightenment.

Though clearly steeped in Graham technique, Rioult invents original movement vocabularies, smartly orchestrates ensemble spatial patterns, and employs striking contrasts in energy and timing to convey his characters and dramatic themes. His choreography sometimes suffers, however, from overuse of just two different groupings. Rioult's troupe consists of four men and four women whom he repeatedly divides into two single-sex quartets or four mixed couples.

Also problematic was Rioult's casting of guest star Carlos Molina (of the Boston Ballet) as Orfeo Then. A tall, princely, classical dancer, Molina seemed constrained by the stage space, gave dramatically unconvincing interpretation to the choreography's internally driven psychological movements, and impressed only when executing spectacular balletic leaps. Conversely, diminutive company member Penelope Gonzalez is a firecracker. As Eurydice, she was electrifying, but her kinesthetic projection is so powerful that when dancing ensemble parts, she draws too much attention, upsetting the overall choreographic focus. Gonzalez is Rioult's star. She should be used accordingly.

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