Jere Hunt didn’t know he was a dancer. The Alabama native took a couple of jazz classes while in high school and kick-ball-charged his way through a few musicals. But he didn’t take his first ballet class until college. That’s where his “Aha” moment happened and upon graduation he auditioned for ballet companies “because that’s what I thought I wanted,” says Hunt. He danced for a small modern ballet company, and a contemporary one. But then he heard about RIOULT, an American modern company that he now calls home. Here, he offers a backstage look at what it’s like to be part of an ensemble.
Q: How did you know that RIOULT would be a good fit for you?
A: One of my co-workers from The Joyce was with RIOULT so I was able to get more info on the workings of the company. It seemed like the kind of atmosphere I wanted to work in.
Q: Pascal Rioult founded the company in 1994 and continues to be the artistic creator as well as the choreographer. What’s his leadership style—dictatorship or democracy?
A: It's very interesting because there's different ways in which we have to work. Since it's a repertory company, we perform work that was created back in 1994 all the way up to the present.
We also create new work every year, which is a very different process from learning existing work. For work that already exists, it's fascinating to hear him talk about his thoughts and inspirations in its creation. He is such a smart and well-cultured man and to have him explain why all the different aspects of a work exist in the manner that they do is incredible.
When he is in the process of creating a work, however, it is very different. He doesn't like to tell his dancers anything. He usually spends a couple of weeks reading, watching movies, listening to music and looking at art to gather inspiration. He does all that before he even comes to the studio. He likes his dancers to be a blank canvas where we can just create movement ideas without over-thinking what it's "about." Then he'll tell us if it works or not (but still won't tell us why).
Q: What’s your philosophy for working well with choreographers?
A: Be open and excepting of the their ideas, but talk to them. If something doesn't feel right, say so. That's the beauty of working with living choreographers—it's a collaboration. Even when the choreographer comes to the studio with a movement phrase or combination already choreographed, I have yet to work with one who isn’t open to input. It has to fit the individual who will be performing it. Even with work that was created 10 years ago, Pascal will sometimes make small changes so that the choreography works better for a particular dancer, while still keeping with his artistic vision.
Q: How does this style of dance differ from other genres?
A: With the [Martha] Graham-based modern that I do currently, the movement really comes out of emotion so everything must be real. If it is put-on then it reads as cheesy and destroys the integrity of the work. In vague generalities, to which there are of course exceptions, ballet tends to be more about making the right line and then adding whatever emotion on top of that. I must say, however, that while I currently dance for a modern company, I love doing everything and enjoy the opportunity of exploring all styles of dance.
Q: The company spends about 25 percent of its time on national and international tours. Do you enjoy being on the road?
A: It's always nice to get out of Manhattan and escape to smaller, quieter places for a bit. It's also really nice to perform for such different audiences. Some have a surprisingly sophisticated knowledge of dance, some have none, so it’s interesting to experience their reaction to our work. The travel can be very difficult at times, especially on our longer tours. The worst part? Sitting for long periods of times is very difficult on the body to when you're used to constantly moving and being active. Plus, you start to miss your own bed after a while!
Q: What advice do you have for dancers who are looking to join a company like RIOLUT?
A: The best thing I can say is go to as many auditions as you can. Auditioning is a skill in and of itself and the more experience you gain, the better you get at it. Also, show them who you are as a performer. I always found it difficult to perform like I'm in a theatre when I'm in a little studio with the "audience" right in front of me. But they are looking to see how you project. Breathe and focus, while trying to not over think. Personally, that's my biggest problem because if I over think the steps or the timing, I end up distracting myself. I have to remember that my body knows what to do and all I have to do is live in each moment of the piece. Lastly, always be gracious. The dance world is incredibly small, and I guarantee you will see people again and again, and they will remember you.