Thursday, March 8, 2012

Petronio: Edgy and Established

The one and only Wendy Whelan. Photo: Julie Lemberger
Stephen Petronio's been making smart dances for decades now. At opening night at the Joyce, his welcoming remarks segued into Intravenous Lecture (during which he receives an IV administered by a doctor and tended to by a scrubs-clad attendant) originated by Steve Paxton in 1970, whom Petronio acknowledges as a mentor, alongside Trisha Brown. Petronio, whose company began in 1984, in this work still conveys the mindset of being a victim during that devastating onslaught of AIDS and the emergence of gay rights through Act Up's protests. But he's now part of the dance establishment, by mere fact of having endured for 25 years. Edginess is implied, significantly in the designers he chooses for his costumes, and his other collaborators.

But that doesn't negate the singularity of his choreographic voice, which has managed to remain its own thing despite sharing conceptual Judson progenitors with countless others. It's aging fairly gracefully as well, augmented by Petronio's keen curatorial eye when selecting repertory to revive. City of Twist (2002), on the program, feels like a classic, though it's timestamped somewhat by Tara Subkoff's deconstructed menswear costumes, and less so by Laurie Anderson's moody score that matches the charcoal urban projections. 

In her acceptance speech at last fall's Bessie Awards, when NYCB's Wendy Whelan won for sustained achievement, she mimed for contemporary choreographers to call her. Whether by chance or intent, Petronio took her up on it, drafting an old solo excerpt from Underland and calling it Ethersketch I. In a gold chain mail halter and wispy gauze skirt, Whelan danced the too-brief solo with her perpetual grace and spirituality, but I missed the earthbound gravity that Petronio's dancers use to explode off the ground. Architecture of Loss (his titles seem to follow a certain syntax) premiered, with music by Valgeir Sigurdsson, fascinating, ever-changing video panels by Rannvá Kunoy, and wispy/chunky knit costumes by Gudrun & Gudrun. A natural extension of his body of work, the 11 dancers bunched, paired off, and soloed a little less frenetically than past works, but always with his distinctive slashing limbs and whipping spins. I really missed Shila Tirabassi's cool, powerful presence (she retired), but marvelled at veteran Gino Grenek's continuing drive and unflagging energy. For that matter, Petronio's too.

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