|Gino Grenek, Davalois Fearon, Nicholas Sciscione in Rainforest. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu|
At the outset, it might seem brave of Petronio to juxtapose his latest work—Locomotor/Non Locomotor—with Rainforest (1968), one of Merce Cunningham's iconic dances. But the comparison shows how Merce's influence on Petronio's—the rigorous geometric architecture, the turned out positions, the supreme athleticism necessary. The premiere is also an aberration for Petronio, who often chooses visual collaborators in addition to musicians and lighting designers. L/NL is noteworthy for being a pure dance piece, without a set design, and with costumes by Narciso Rodriguez and Ken Tabachnik's lighting scheme. Clams Casino's striking, moody soundscore provides a spacious and imaginative underlayment for Petronio's propulsive and compelling movement. (I wrote about the premiere of the thrilling first part last year.)
After the curtain falls and rises again, Non Locomotor picks up where Locomotor leaves off, with dancers leaping in arcs, always with a powerful impulse. They soon deposit at center stage Davalois Fearon, now the only dancer in a royal blue leotard vs. the others' black and cream ones. She begins to unspool the movement motifs that brand this section—predominantly planted feet in contrast to the rushing first section, the torso and arms carving shapes and gestural imagery. She's joined by three men, who at times strike artificial-feeling poses, like models. The relative stasis is a reminder of how terrific Petronio is at creating great movement and trajectory with the human body. But the contrast between sections is a welcome dynamic change.
Rainforest is a bit of flash and dash within Cunningham's rep, what with its animal inspired movement and glittering set of silver mylar helium-filled pillows by Andy Warhol. Depending on how much helium they contain, they have minds of their own from show to show. At the Joyce, the pillows burst out of the proscenium and zoomed up toward the lighting and vents. (In the last performance I saw, at BAM, they were lazier and only one left the stage.) They distracted somewhat from the five dancers, in tattered, flesh-toned leotards originally conceived by Jasper Johns. Petronio's dancers brought their own personalities to the varied roles, but they didn't—nor possibly can any company, going forward—match the concision and lucidity of Cunningham's company, in its prime. That said, Cunningham alum Toogood performed in the work, reminding us of the quiet ferocity brought with each performance by Merce's dancers, similar to the intelligent focus of Petronio's. The score, by David Tudor, was performed live.
Petronio plans next to revive a work by Trisha Brown, a choreographer whose legacy is badly in need of support. As one of her ex-dancers, he is well equipped to do so. And yet commonalities are so readily identifiable with Cunningham that this year's presentation is eminently logical. The strategy is far more cogent than, say, Paul Taylor's, but the scale is far smaller. It's yet another fascinating example to watch while the history of modern dance unfolds and hard-working choreographers are forced to become archivists as well.