“We’re preparing for our New York season right now,” Rioult said during a break in rehearsals.
Rioult founded the group in 1994; today it is recognized as one of the leading dance troupes in the nation, touring worldwide and presenting an annual New York season.
Interlochen hosts RIOULT Dance NY for a performance at Corson Auditorium June 26. The program will include “Views of the Fleeting World” (2008) and portions of Rioult’s Ravel Project. “Wien” dates from 1995, and “Bolero” from 2002.
“It’s music I love,” said Rioult of his fellow Frenchman Maurice Ravel.
Ravel’s most famous piece, “Bolero,” was originally composed for ballet. It consists of a repetitive riff or melodic line that gradually incorporates the entire orchestra. In the dance, Rioult sought to mirror the slowly building theme in the same way for the dancers.
Ravel began composing “Wien” (Vienna) in 1906 as a tribute to the music of Johann Strauss Jr. and the concept of the fantastic whirl of destiny. It morphed over time into “La Valse” and wasn’t finished until 1920. By that time, Vienna was in the midst of famine and epidemic in the wake of World War I, so the concept of destiny had taken on a bitter tone.
Rioult kept the waltz, but interrupts the smooth progress of the traditional circling movements with incongruous, at times violent movements. Thus the Viennese waltz, the very image of social refinement, becomes the symbol of a disintegrating society taken into a whirlpool of violence and humiliation.
“It’s like dancing on a volcano,” said Rioult. “It’s twisted until it tumbles apart. It’s a maelstrom of violence and release.”
A former star athlete in France, Rioult turned to dance and 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.
As a principal dancer with Graham, he interpreted many of the most prestigious roles in the repertory. In 1990, Graham created the central role of Death Figure in her ballet Eye of the Goddess for him.
Rioult formed his own company four years later to create his own dances, among them “Martha, May and Me,” in which he pays homage to his mentors O’Donnell and Graham.
Asked whether the dances or the music come first, Rioult said, “It depends. They come from the (existing) music, or I have the dance moves in my head, and from the dance images comes the music.”
Rioult said he likes to challenge himself by imposing arbitrary rules. “I try to give myself a challenge choreographically. The music of ‘Wien’ sounds like a whirlpool, so the dance is a circle.”
Rioult has found inspiration in nature, in Japanese wood blocks, in the music of Bach – sometimes all of this and more.
For “Views of the Fleeting World,” Rioult chose Bach’s “The Art of the Fugue,” melding Bach’s Germanic music with Asian motifs.
“Somehow, his extraordinary German mind went with Asian philosophy, Bach and the Japanese print,” Rioult added. “I don’t know exactly why.”
“As an artist, you work first on instinct. Eventually you find out why (you made certain choices). That’s the most exciting part of my job – the ‘Ah hah!’ moment.
RIOULT Dance NY includes ten dancers plus two apprentices (and unlike most touring dance troupes, RIOULT members are fulltime employees with benefits).
“My dancers are all there for me. They are hired and work all year together. It’s 36 to 39 weeks, six hours a day, five days a week,” he said.
Rioult is especially excited about a visit to Interlochen, where troupe member dancer Holt Walborn studied.
“We’ve wanted to be at Interlochen. It will be a great program.”
For tickets and more information, go to Interlochen.tickets.org.