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Donald Rosenberg  |  April 04, 2011

Rioult makes explosive thing of Ravel's "La Valse"

From the moment the music begins its ominous rumble and six dancers move in fits and starts, "Wien" signals that Rioult is a choreographer with an eye for striking imagery. Virtually everything about this creation is unsettling, from the Kafka-esque aura, vividly transformed by lighting designer David Finley, to the spasmodic intermingling of bodies in a whirlpool of desolation.

The dancers are dressed in Russ Vogler's middle-class European attire, placing them in the nexus of world conflagration. They're clearly on the edge of sanity as they move in circular chains, cling to one another or collapse to the floor in momentary anguish.

As they're swept along Ravel's tidal wave of waltzing menace, the cast reveals the limber and urgent strength that is a hallmark of the company. "Wien" packs an emotional wallop partly because the dancers have such command both of technical resources and expressive power.

The program continued after a pause with "Bolero," Ravel's most famous and hypnotic score, with its haunting theme that does nothing but increase in volume and orchestral texture. Rioult illuminates the music using eight dancers, dressed in sleek white, who execute robotic gestures in canonic patterns.

As the instruments in Ravel's score bring distinctive personality to the theme, each dancer has a solo moment of unfolding balances and elegant sensuality. Rioult builds an intriguing mosaic set before Harry Feiner's Cubist backdrop that never falls into the trap of physical monotony.

The cast, including many of the dancers who had thrust themselves into the pained world of "Wien," gave "Bolero" a performance of mesmerizing and concentrated vibrancy. In solo, duo and ensemble episodes, they were alert to every crisp or elastic choreographic demand.

Another side of Rioult was on display in the program's opening work, "Views of the Fleet World," set to selections from Bach's "The Art of the Fugue" (arranged for string orchestra). In nine sections, the piece suggests varied states of nature, employing abstract painted projections (by Feiner) and sounds of thunder, wind and rain to underline the basic themes.

But the dance is the thing. Even without the effects, which add little, Riout's responses to Bach are keenly sensitive to phrasing and structure. The creative inspiration is buoyant, shapely and often intricate in design, reflecting Bach's contrapuntal mastery.

One movement stands out. In "Moonlight," two dancers lie on the stage reaching upward and toward one another in romantic reverie. Like their colleagues throughout the night, Penelope Gonzalez and Brian Flynn were luminous champions of their artistic director's discerning vision.

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