BWW Preview: RIOULT DANCE NY Astounds in the Open Rehearsal of 'Cassandra's Curse'
In preparation for its upcoming Joyce season, RIOULT Dance NY held an open rehearsal at the Gibney Dance Center at 890 Broadway featuring a run through of the company's upcoming world premiere, "Cassandra's Curse". Of course this refers to that doomed prophetess from the Trojan War who - though blessed with foresight - was cursed to never have her predictions believed. In an expansive opening, Artistic Director Pascal Rioult revealed that the piece was inspired by his passion for Euripides' "The Trojan Women", a play that serves as a wellspring of material for his current artistic period. Like the great Greek playwright, Mr. Rioult has little patience for the traditional place assigned to women in our society. Being a former superstar Principal of the Martha Graham Dance Company - and married to another former superstar Principal as well, Joyce Herring - it is easy to understand why. More than lacking patience for thrusting roles upon women "just because", Mr. Rioult is exhausted by the endless cycle of war and the use of women as scapegoats in our society. The same lessons that Euripides taught nearly 2,500 years ago are just as relevant today. Warfare and savagery against women - be it through rape, human trafficking, denial of jobs and fair pay, or a refusal to acknowledge accomplishments - are all too common even in these more "civilized" times. How wonderful then that on the eve of nominating our nation's first female presidential candidate, Mr. Rioult is preparing to unveil a triptych of works that honors women. He has named it "WOMEN ON THE EDGE...Unsung Heroines of the Trojan War" and made it Program A for RIOULT Dance NY's 2016 NYC Season.
"WOMEN ON THE EDGE" features three heroines from the Trojan War: Iphigenia, Helen of Troy, and Cassandra. "Iphigenia" chronicles the life of King Agamemnon's daughter from innocent childhood to unsuspecting human sacrifice. In death she assumes the valor of Joan of Arc by bravely facing her cowardly murderers. Told in narrative fashion, this piece does not turn its head away from the powerful tragedy of Iphigenia's tale. "On Distant Shores" is the story of Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world whose abduction served as the so-called "catalyst" for war. Mr. Rioult debunks this position by crafting a fantasy of what would have happened had this horror never come to pass. And of course "Cassandra's Curse" focuses on its namesake character, though in an abstract manner that looks into the psychological ramifications of knowing what will happen while being powerless to alter the course of action.
During the presentation of "Cassandra's Curse", we were treated to Mr. Rioult's mastery of storytelling that juxtaposed ignorance with madness to skin-tingling effect. Cassandra is embodied by Sara Elizabeth Seger, a powerhouse dancer who seethes with incredulity at her fate. As played by Ms. Seger, this character is far from pathetic. If anything one almost worries about the invading Greeks should they stand in her way. Though she is made a pariah by her own people, in this telling Cassandra never stops fighting to save her country. One of the marvels included in this work is that it is narrated, not by a traditional Greek chorus but by the LEGENDARY actress Kathleen Turner. For the open rehearsal Ms. Herring stood in for Ms. Turner. Ms. Herring was excellent, which shows that "Cassandra's Curse" will be even more incredible when Ms. Turner debuts the role.
Though this is by and large a solo work for two women - Ms. Turner and Ms. Seger - the company of RIOULT Dance NY also plays a significant part as the countrymen and invaders. One scene that stood out as especially jaw-dropping was the sacking of Troy. Mr. Rioult has captured the true violence of war by choreographing what felt like the male equivalent of the Furies from Martha Graham's "Night Journey". Of course the movement is completely different, but the haunting effect is the same. I found myself pushing back in equal parts horror and awe at the force of this section. It is not to be missed.
Mr. Rioult joked that he has gone all out with "Cassandra's Curse" and created a "four-ring circus". I would have to say, "and how". Between the dynamic choreography, the moving sets, the commissioned score for strings from American composer Richard Danielpour, video projections, and original costumes, it looks like Mr. Rioult has created a full-blown Broadway epic. The nice thing is that even up close in the open rehearsal, the production never felt gratuitous. I suppose we can chalk that up to 22 years of experience and Greek inspiration.
In closing the open rehearsal, Mr. Rioult referenced the denouement of "Trojan Women". Though the women have lost their loved ones and are now effectively refugees, at least they are still alive. The parallel that he drew between this story and the refugee situation in Syria - not to mention that so many of these refugees are fleeing to Greece - was sobering. Thank goodness that we have sages like Mr. Rioult in our time to remind us of the lessons from yesterday.
RIOULT Dance NY celebrates its 2016 Season with the premiere of "Cassandra's Curse" starring Kathleen Turner on June 21st, 2016 at The Joyce Theater. The concert runs through June 26th, 2016 and alternates with Program B which features the New York City Premiere of Mr. Rioult's "Polymorphous". Tickets are on sale now. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit rioult.org or joyce.com.