9th of March 2012


If you want to see a lot of Stephen Petroniop’s distinctive, slash-and-whip style, head to the Joyce Theater this weekend for his latest New York season (March 6-11) for a big gulp.  

The drawing card this season is a guest performance by Wendy Whelan.  In a three-minute solo “Ethersketch I,” from Petronio’s dark 2003 “Underland,” Whelan – whose day job is being a Bessie-Award-winning star of New York City Ballet – nimbly wends her way through Petronio’s complex extensions, balances and unlikely twists.  Ubiquitous Whelan seems comfortable in this alien style, finding the dynamic flashes while maintaining riveting composure.   She sparkles in a golden top and short shorts by Karen Erickson in the tantalizing, too-brief cameo. 

“City of Twist” (2002) with an instrumental score by Laurie Anderson is typical Petronio – a series of fraught solos, woven together with comings and goings in smaller groupings by the cast of seven, wearing skimpy, high-fashion, skin-baring togs by Tara Subkoff/ Imitation of Christ.  The dancers seem self-involved, detached from each other, passing with glancing contact on their individual trajectories.  

Petronio’s dancers are always wonderful to look at, flexing and stretching honed limbs in elaborate spirals around compact torsos.  Veteran Petronio muses Gino Grenek and Amanda Wells set the tone with Davalois Fearon, Barrington Hinds, Julian De Leon, and newer-comers (to me) Jaqlin Medlock, Nicholas Sciscione, Natalie Mackessy, Joshua Tuason, Emily Stone, Joshua Green reinforcing it with authority.

Photo: Julie Lemberger. Petronio Company in The Architecture of Loss

The world premiere “The Architecture of Loss” reveals a more compassionate side than we’re used to from Petronio, who revels in slash-and-whip movement.  A spare, melancholy, original score by Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurosson, featuring electronics, bass, aquaphone, banjo and vocals, with violist Nadia Sirota, and pianist Nico Muhly, provides an appropriately austere cushion for the emotionally rooted, restrained dancing.    

Dressed in Gudrun & Gudrun’s chocolate and off-white knitted tunics, washed by resident lighting designer Ken Tabachnick in warmth, and backed by a triptych projection by Ravi Rajan of cloud-like paintings by Rannva Kunoy, austere tableaus, melt and reform; people come an go, mutually consoling.  Two duets form the heart of the work.  In one, lanky Tuason patiently tames De Leon’s puppy-like restiveness.  The other features Wells, repeatedly melting into, stretching from, and climbing onto powerful, gentle Green, who handles her firmly, gently, like a loving protector.

Photo: Julie Lemberger. Joshua Green, Amanda Wells in The Architecture of Loss

Petronio opens the program in a zebra-striped John Bartlett suit, thanking to the Joyce, his performing alma mater for 20 years, and paying homage to whom he calls the two “pillars” of his artistic influence, claiming facetiously to be their “bastard child” – Trisha Brown and Steve Paxton, both of them founding members of the Judson Dance Group.  Petronio was the first male dancer in Brown’s then all-woman troupe, and Paxton is credited with “inventing” contact improvisation.  Quite a lineage!

Photo by Julie Lemberger: Petronio and Sciscione in Intravenous Lecture

Then he performs an un-notated, improvisational piece, given to him by Paxton, “Intravenous Lecture” (1970/2012), which with Petronio’s recounting its genesis as a protest against Paxton’s being forbidden to show nudity in a dance for NYU.  While Petronio talks, he gets injected with saline IV by a registered nurse.  Then, he undertakes gay equality rant in the form of an overly footnoted verbal and physical anecdote, about getting busted in London in the ‘70s – where he and “noted choreographer” X were having a substance-fueled love affair – for wearing a provocative T-shirt (which just happened to be a $400 Vivian Westwood design) in public. 

© Gus Solomons jr, 2012

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