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The weight of emotion lay heavy on the trio of women at the center of each respective piece that made up American Dance Festival's Women on the Edge:.Unsung Heroines of the Trojan War as presented by the Rioult Dance Company. Performed in the Reynolds Industries Theater and choreographed by artistic director Pascal Rioult, this work interprets the timeless tales of archetypal women and the futility of war. Although Rioult does not concretely tell us what the characters are "on the edge" of, Women on the Edge takes the viewer on a journey through the lives of Iphigenia, Helene of Troy, and Cassandra. The three redemptive pieces that make up the work created an exhilarating evening with inventive approaches to storytelling through the use of media, dance, and music. The dancer biographies can be found on the company's website.
Iphigenia opened the evening with a quiet start. The piece, first performed in New York in 2013, has stayed in the company's repertoire. The first part of this condensed version of the tale of the doomed heroine, forced to be sacrificed by her father, emphasizes the titular character's relationship with her mother, Queen Clytemnestra.
Rioult moved dancers Catherine Cooch (Iphigenia) and Charis Haines (Clytemnestra), mirroring the other, before Cooch's Iphigenia began to pick up on the gestures her mother was teaching her. This touching pas-de-deux displayed the power of maternal love and became symbolically important when Iphengenia displayed the power of independent choice – something her mother tought her in the opening minutes of the dance. Their mother-daughter lessons came to an end as King Agamemnon (Brian Flynn) conceded that Iphigenia must be sacrificed. We saw Clytemnestra wrestling with her husband and then, in a dangerous and beautifully choreographed segment, they tussled and threw one another around the stage in a battle for their daughter. Before the heroine decided her own fate, she danced an elated yet mournful dance of love with her beloved Achilles (Jere Hunt). Iphigenia then came to terms with her hate and walked into the darknes to her fate, beyond Harry Feiner's minimalist set resembling stick houses.
Iphigenia is probably the most traditional of the trilogy, relying more on narrative and story than pure emotion to fuel the dancing. The result was satisfactory, though, dare I sayit, it would have benefitted from being a bit longer, so that more of the ideas could have come to fruition.
The second piece, On Distant Shores... a redemption fantasy, begins with four shirtless men gazing onto the rolling clouds, created thanks to David Finley's surrealist lighting. A diagonal beam of light shone on the stage and Helen of Troy (Charis Haines) appeared. Over the course of the piece, she contorted her body to Aaron Jay Kernis' blistering soundtrack to show Helen's troubled reflection of her time on earth.
The memories Haines painted on her face while her body undulated like the clouds the men observed hinted at disturbing and violent, leaving us to rely on the resulting emotions Helen embodied. Helen's emotional journey came close to what I call "sensory possession" and border on scary at times. There were moments of tenderness as Helen danced with each of the four men, all portraying "Trojan War Heroes." Here, the music did not disturb; rather, Kernis' piece broke the heart and intensified the feeling of loss Helen experienced as she danced with each before they disappeared from her arms and back into the clouds. It is a piercingly sad work that is unsettling, yet it leaves you with the feeling of satisfaction – almost like remembering a lost love.
Though the narration places us in Troy during the 5th century, the ADF-commissioned work Cassandra's Curse juxtaposes the tale of a woman whose visions of her city and people under siege are ignored in the context of the Syrian refugee crisis. This is thanks to Brian Clifford Beasley's projections that occur throughout the opening of the piece. Cassandra (Sara Elizabeth Seger) gets boxed in by her peers (done on stage by rolling scrim painted convincingly to look like sheet metal) and left to warn no one about the visions of violence to her city that she experiences. In a brilliantly conceived moment, the stage and projections are split in two: on stage right, Cassandra rages in her box as footage of violence plays behind her, while all the while, stage left, the left part of the screen is dark and her peers (the rest of the Rioult company) kumbaya in a meditative circle.
When the violence to the city does occur and men and women are left to fight one another on the streets, Cassandra begins to feel more powerful. Though her predicted atrocities are occurring, she feels hopeful that the city can be rebuilt and that better days await – a promising message even in the context of the Syrian refugee crisis. Cassandra's Curse resonates across centuries, as Rioult, with the powerhouse performance by Seger, showed us. Though some of the group numbers were not synched as well with the music as the solo dancing was, this piece was the stand-out of the evening – a moving marriage of media, dance, and music.
For information on the repeat performances, see our sidebar.