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The Violet Hour: Pascal Rioult Newest Work and the Rioult Dance Company

May 20, 2012

Rioult’s The Violet Hour, Photo by Eric Bandiero

The Rioult Dance Company premiered The Violet Hour, a work of forlorn beauty and a haunting sense of timelessness during their four-day 2012 New York Season at The Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College,

The Violet Hour seems to portray a darker aspect of the human experience and has a much different feel than that of Rioult’s Celestial Tides (2011) or Firebird (2003). Celestial Tides is a work of light, it explores the flowing movement of water, the ebb and flow of the tide and Firebird, well Firebird…I just did not get!

The Violet Hour is loosely inspired by T.S. Elliot’s poem “The Waste Land” and is a collaboration between Pascal Rioult and Grammy winning composer Joan Tower.  It is set to Ms. Tower’s 1994 work “Tres Lent “ and her newly commissioned “Catching a Wave”.

Rioult’s The Violet Hour, Photo by Eric Bandiero

The Violet Hour begins with one dancer than another running across stage, then more dancers began to slowly walk across, they all are focused on something distant with almost robotic stares. Their expression stern as if they are in deep concentration or perhaps a trance.

They are clad in neutral toned loosely fitting tops and briefs, the costume by Maria Garcia only add to the sense of other worldliness and Clifton Taylor’s lighting brings it full circle. It is akin to watching people marching into what the ancient Romans’ referred to as Hades or perhaps the Catholic purgatory (a place or condition of temporal punishment for those who… are not entirely free from venial faults, or have not fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions.)

There is a constant sense of movement and repetitiveness as a dancer walks off one side of the stage only to reenter from the other side. Everything seems to happen from the audience’s left to right as in accordance with Earth’s rotation left to right or west to east.

Michael Spencer Phillips grabs Marianna Tsartolia as she runs past him, he lifts her up and she reaches one arm out, her face a frozen scream. This is the state of mind portrayed, a place of untold or unheard screams, a place of callousness that is somewhat reflective of our society, a world where we eat dinner while listening to the evening news, news that is filled with murder, rape and missing children and still we eat.

Rioult’s The Violet Hour, Photo by Eric Bandiero

In frustration, as if he is tired of the nonsense around him Holt Walborn stops before a trio, a trio that is entwined in a struggle that seems it will yield no results. He starts to try explaining, complaining, imploring to those around him, but his voice is not heard, no-one hears for it is a voice of silence, seen but not heard as he gestures and shouts, giving up in hopeless resolve.

Son of Man,

You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,

And the dead trees give no shelter…

                                                            T.S. Elliot

The above is an apt description, for The Violet Hour is somewhat true in feel to T.S. Elliot’s The Waste Land, penned in 1922, for it is filled with broken images, images seen for a moment and not seen again. There is a macabre beauty to the work and has a feel of inevitability.

Two dancers run onstage and assume distorted and twisted shapes with their bodies. They freeze as if time has stopped just in that moment. Jere Hunt comes and looks at them, observes them, his face filled with surprise for their uncanny actions and to him it is so unexplainable he just walks away.

Ms. Towers music is haunting, and added to that is the ethereal beauty of Raman Ramakrishnan’s Cello. Philip Gardner wrote in his blog Oberon’s Grove that The Violet Hour…casts a spell somewhere between loneliness and hope. I think he puts is succinctly, for The Violet Hour is a portrait painted with despair, a place the lies just beyond the edge of darkness, a place where light is treated as a stranger.

Pascal Rioult is a former track and field star from France, he came to the United States on a fellowship from the French Ministry of Culture to study modern dance in 1981. After performing with the companies of May O’Donnell and Paul Sanasardo he was invited to join the Martha Graham Dance Company. He started his own company in 1994 and his works have been commissioned by the American Dance Festival, Ballet du Nord and the Geneva Ballet. He is a two-time recipient of the Choo-San Goh Award for Choreography.

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