The lives of ancient women come back to life through dance

World-renowned dancer and choreographer Pascal Rioult brought to Lafayette his performance of “Women on the Edge,” an act that brings to the forefront the often-forgotten voices of women.

The performance is not simply an ancient narrative, but one that is common to women throughout history, according to Rioult. He tells this story through modern dance but promises to secure those ideas that stem all the way back to Euripides.

“Use all the means at your disposal to send your message,” Rioult said, “and if it’s not enough, invent it.”

Based on the work “Women of the Trojan War” by the Greek author Euripides, Rioult has spun the tale of three women, Iphigenia, Cassandra and Helen, into a modern dance spectacular that has been hailed by critics worldwide.

Rioult sat down with his Associate Artistic Director Joyce Herring and Classics professor Markus Dubischar for a lunchtime discussion this past Tuesday on the history and messages depicted in his work.

Each of the three women in Euripides’ story touches on different aspects of the female experience in society, which Rioult sought to draw out through metaphor.

“I’m not interested in the story, but what it says,” Rioult said. “Euripides did that which was very controversial in those days, and that’s [what gave a] voice to the women of the Trojan War.”

Cassandra, the Princess of Troy, was blessed with the gift of prophecy from Apollo but cursed with the knowledge that no one would ever believe her. Cassandra is thus forced to watch the men around her plunge needlessly into war and chaos, despite her warnings.

“Cassandra is the voice of reason that we smother,” Rioult said, echoing his prior assertion of the futility of war. “The voice of history…we’d rather not listen to her, we’d rather just keep doing the same stupid thing, again and again.” 

Rioult also detailed the role that modern political discourse plays in his work.

“As an artist, you have to think of things in how they relate to your time and to your audience,” he said.

He connected the warring cities in “Women on the Edge” to the modern-day battlefields in Syria, saying that in both times women were forced to leave behind their homes and identities in pursuit of safety.

This profound courage can be found in all three women from the dance. For Iphigenia, the young daughter of King Agamemnon, it involves giving her own life for the reputation of her country.

“This little girl has so much courage, so much novelty of spirit,” Rioult said.

Helen’s courage comes in a different form, as she is forced to confront the ramifications of a war that many blame entirely on her.

“How do I redeem her, or how does she redeem herself?” Rioult asked. “What would have happened if the men had not died in her name?”

In shifting the historical lens to focus primarily on women, Rioult had to adapt his style to make the men appear more one-dimensional than his usual humanistic portrayal.

Rioult said that the violence and brutality [the characters] display are not for shock, but because it is a very real part of the human story. “It is their truth,” he added.

A student asked how one should find meaning in the dance.

“Don’t think about what they are trying to say, just watch the movement and see how it affects you,” Herring responded. 

 

About Benjamin Fuller

Ben Fuller '21 is the editor-in-chief of The Lafayette. He studies math and computer science, with a minor in religious studies.

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