The past decade has been a learning process for choreographer Pascal Rioult. Since forming his own New York-based company in 1994, the former Martha Graham Dance Company dancer has embarked on several multi-year projects, studying and choreographing to the music of Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky and, most recently, J.S. Bach.
Though he never studied composition himself, Rioult says he learned to develop his craft by the composers' example.
On Fri., Oct. 1, at the Byham Theater, Rioult's self-titled troupe (pronounced ree-you) will perform a sampling of his works set to each composer's music, including the company's signature work, "Bolero."
Opening the diverse Pittsburgh Dance Council program is the 25-minute "Views of the Fleeting World" (2008). Its title is taken from a translation of the name of a series of woodcut prints by Japanese master Hiroshige.
The piece is in nine parts with titles like "Gathering Storm," "Wild Horses" and "Moonlight." Rioult, interviewed by phone from New York, describes "Views" as a "poetic journey about life passing us by and the fleeting images we remember at the end."
Set to Bach's "The Art of Fugue" and incorporating projected images that correspond to each section's theme, the work is atmospheric. An excerpt of the piece available on YouTube is rather angelic in its look and feel.
For the program's other two works, 2005's "Les Noces" and "Bolero" (2002), Rioult says he anticipated difficulties and high expectations in any reinterpretation of such familiar music and dance pieces.
"They are strong compositions and I felt they could support contemporary interpretations giving audiences a new vision of them," says Rioult.
For his provocative 26-minute version of Stravinsky's "Les Noces" ("The Wedding"), Rioult cast aside Bronislava Nijinska's original 1923 ballet storyline taken from Russian peasant marriage ceremonies. He says he turned the focus away from the excitement and trepidation of an arranged marriage and toward the emotions surrounding one's first sexual experience.
Rioult's attitude toward "Bolero," meanwhile, in some ways mirrors Ravel's. For instance, Ravel was uneasy with how the work's success overshadowed his other compositions, and Rioult likewise says he has had to reluctantly accept his "Bolero" as the company's calling card.
Moreover, just as Ravel treated his masterwork as a composition exercise, so does Rioult with his "Bolero."
Echoing the music, Rioult employs four movement phrases repeated over and over that build to a crescendo. And throughout the 16-minute tour de force, Rioult -- a former track star in France -- says he works the eight dancers onstage like runners in a race, pushing them to exhaustion.
Says Rioult, "The work is mechanical, like an engine that starts up and keeps revving up."
Pittsburgh Dance Council presents Rioult 8 p.m. Fri., Oct. 1. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $19.75-45.75. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org