Rioult Dance: A 20-year legacy

Minimalist and impressionist routines captivated audiences in the CFA


Dancing can be a grueling art form – members of Pascal Rioult’s company practice for eight hours a day – three-hour classes and then another two to six hours in the studio for rehearsal.

The work of Pascal Rioult and his company, RIOULT Dance NY, made its way to the Center for the Arts Mainstage Theatre on Saturday night.

The two-part production was the most recent in the M&T Bank Dance Series, a celebration of 20 years of RIOULT Dance NY.

Rioult started the company in 1994, after he built up experience performing with Paul Sanasardo and May O’Donnell. Apart from being the company’s owner, Rioult is also the artistic director and choreographer of RIOULT Dance NY.

“The first part is artistic, very impressionistic. The second part has German influence, [post] second world [war],” Pascal Rioult said, in a session before the performance.

The choreographer emphasized the intense workload for the dancers during the session – professional dancers spend even more time practicing than the company’s requirements.

Only a select few are able to handle the pain of intensive practicing, Rioult said.

“Your body doesn’t lie, from there you can tell who will be a performer or not,” he said.

The visual elements of the routine are minimalist as the dancers wear neutral leotards, movements are strong and deliberate and the performance is set to a backdrop of Impressionist-era paintings.

“I love when they did the interplay when they did the mirror and reflection scene, and I liked the background interpretations when they mixed it in with the dancing,” said Michelangelo Barber, a 52-year-old Buffalo resident. “It was fantastic; it really was.”

Pascal Rioult uses the medium of dance as a vehicle to project social commentary, something Laura Curthoys, an arts management graduate student, noticed as she watched the performance through the lens of what her classes focus on.

“In our program we’re talking about how art benefits society,” Curthoys said. “The social commentary in the [first half] is something many people don’t realize dance can do.”

For Barber, the poise and control the dancers exhibited along with their synchronous movements during the piece was representative of how people interact.

“It’s indicative of the separatism of society, in which gender roles pitted individuals against their better halves,” Barber said. “It speaks on how as people we have time [for each other], but we don’t take it.”

Rioult built the show around abstract visual elements that allowed the audience to develop their own interpretations of the performance.

“[The routine was] very abstract, purely architectural to me. It’s about structure,” Rioult said. “I did a lot of research, I research my pieces. I’m always prepared; [it] doesn’t mean I always know what I’m doing, it means I have a good guess.”

When the production came to a close, the performers bowed and curtseyed to their audience, whose uproarious standing ovation lasted well after the curtains closed.

“There are times when powerful and moving are apt words to describe a performance; they would be insufficient for today’s performance,” Barber said. “The production as a whole was fantastic.”

The performers' arduous practice schedule paid off, as they put on both a beautiful performance and a thought-provoking piece that used different mediums in order to project ideas. Their minimalist approach to costumes allowed their movements to be more easily appreciated and to contrast with the complex artwork behind them.

Kenneth Kashif Thomas is a staff writer and can be reached at