On Stage: Hearing the Dance

I have often said that I am happiest watching great dance along with great music (although not necessarily joined at the hip). Whatever your preference, it seems that Pittsburgh dance companies have taken music to heart, including Attack Theatre’s brilliant partnering with four different bands in “Site/Re-site”, Pillow Project’s upcoming month-long multi-media dance installation with original P.J. Roduta score, and, within a few hours’ driving distance, the Joffrey Ballet/Cleveland Orchestra collaboration at the Blossom Music Festival and North Carolina Dance Theatre/Chautauqua Orchestra at Chautauqua.

Yes, I am happy.

I recently had the chance to talk with Pascal Rioult, whose company will open the Dance Council’s 2010-11 season on Friday, as well as anchor the Performing Arts Exchange, a regional touring conference.

Pascal’s musical tastes lean toward the symphonic. Hence  live music really isn’t an option, although recorded music is still acceptable for touring modern dance companies. But for music lovers (and that includes a lot of dance devotees), there’s nothing wrong with a program that has a triple-threat combination the likes of Bach, Ravel and Stravinsky.

It appears that the former Martha Graham dancer regularly goes on a musical tangent, something that has lasted 12 years. It’s a play on the whole chicken and egg thing. What comes first — the inspiration for choreography or the music itself? According to Pascal, it can swing both ways. ” I have to feel something in the music,” the Frenchman explains in his soothing accent. “It has to take me somewhere besides my everyday life.”

In the beginning, he felt that he had something to say by revisiting familiar classical themes. But that takes a lot of chutzpah — after all, there have been over 150 dance productions of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” But that’s getting ahead of things because it all began with Ravel, known for his compositional techniques. “You hear about the great master painters,” Pascal continues. “At first they study and repaint the masters. You learn about the craft and you learn about yourself.”

As an established dance artist, he had an understanding of what he was, but didn’t know why. Ravel began to show him the way, whereupon he built an entire evening program of his works. It started a way of working. Stravinsky was a step further in the the same direction. “Stravinsky can get really wild,” Pascal says of “Les Noces.” But he equated it to a life experience that doesn’t make sense until the end.

Then there is his newest project to Bach, who he chose “because he was the source” for both Ravel and Stravinsky. “Both composers said they had Bach music on their shelf — pretty much that’s all they had. I felt the same way; now I understand his complexity. It’s kind of going back, but it’s going back to go forward.”

This season he will finish with his Bach episode. What next? He has decided to turn to contemporary American composers. “I will pick them because they work in the same kind of vein I do — the classical structure with emotion.”

Pittsburgh’s program will contain a look at each of the musical  giants. As Pascal puts it, “three very different ways to look at music, three very different ways of interpreting the score.” After concerts, some people tell him, “I didn’t know that the piece was like that” or “I never heard it this way.”

“To me, that is a kind of a victory.”

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