Thursday, January 21, 2021

Dance Review: The Stephen Petronio Company Springs Forward in its 25th Anniversary Celebration of Unique Work

Stephen Petronio Dance Company Stephen Petronio is living his moment the opening night of his New York season at the Joyce Theater.   Located in Chelsea, the posh notoriously gay neighborhood, the Joyce Theater is swarming with just the type.  The bar is busy, with people partaking of the specialty cocktail “Love Me Tender” and cherry flavored popcorn, both in Petronio’s favorite color-pink!   And it is certainly time for celebration; this company has survived the big city for 25 years, growing in its own style and reaching audiences around the globe.

The performance opens with a solo entitled #3.  A bald man appears like a waiter or butler in a suit and shiny paten leather shoes with fourth position arms scooped to one side curving up to the sky.  This is not Max Brenner – this is Stephen Petronio- and this is dance by the bald man.  With his feet cemented center-stage, Stephen Petronio invites us in, beckoning us to witness his observations.  Simultaneously he is sculpting himself, his hands creeping over his own skin, honing his craft before our eyes as we realize this is his style he is presenting to us.  We are learning his language of isolated sharp port de bras and strong, sometimes torqued torso.  A language of the spine, elaborated with the limbs, I must admit Stephen Petronio reminds me of one of those beaded wobble dolls who get jelly legs when you squeeze their platform, but only because his feet never moved from the same spot on the stage.

Are You a DANCER?  Join iDANZ Today! The next piece entitled MiddleSexGorge opens with two women on stage posed erected from fourth positions, the light contouring their muscles.  Each movement is articulated and controlled, though sometimes the movement is so dramatic- arms and legs whipping in fast circular motions optimizing the ball and socket joints at the hips and shoulders.  The technique of the company is fierce, sharp with high battements, strong cores that demand quickly executed changes in direction, yet somehow is lacking the use of plié:  the legs sometimes appear stiff, the feet flexing above the ground, harsh landings on the floor.  The music asks, “are you hot?  Are you feeling hot?”  The dancers bodies are certainly hot, women moving freely in black short unitards, the men in sexy flesh-colored corsets.  Some of the men are wearing pansy pants (my name for them), fresh for the picking;  I have witnessed promotional photos for the company this year with the dancers wearing these flesh tights sprouting with orangey pink petals.  Other men simply wear their flesh-colored dancebelt- super sexy ass cheeks on display.  I didn’t understand the contrast between the women’s’ costuming and the men’s’ – the women looking as if they came from dance class, the men from a spring fashion runway.  The dancers faces don’t express much, but their bodies scream, “yes, I’m hot!” with abrupt changes in direction, head-bang, battement, windmill motions slicing through space. The women swarm round one of the men as the chorus repeats, “Are you hot?  Are you feeling hot?”   Then as they close in on him “I’m ambitious”  …a nice commentary on a man’s sexual prowess.  The audience loves it.

Note for The Joyce employees:  To better handle the two huge lines at concessions barely moving- if you offer a drink special, mix’em up beforehand, otherwise people are forced to chug their beverages at the last moment, having spent the entire intermission waiting for drinks. Try the pre-pour, sales should improve too, as employees offer beverages ready on trays (no line delays!)

Following intermission is a solo, Love Me Tender, with Julian DeLeon in a silky men’s shirt and…white shorts beneath.  A bit of a tease, his body aches to be loved and touched, very expressive everywhere but the face.  I think this reflects on an artistic preference with the company to focus expression through the body. Two women in short white unitards and draped fabric as sleeves appear; this must’ve been the beginning of “Foreign Import” with music “Creep” by Radiohead.  A disturbed man, performed by Reed Luplau, dances between and around these two angelic figures.  Reed Luplau succeeds in getting the audience’s attention, his movements attack and swarm the stage like a desperate person’s cry for help.

The last dance brings the company together in Ghostown, a world premiere.  I love the costuming for this piece, each dancer having a unique combination of tight spandex in neutral colors with an element of flowing fabric.  As if different groups of people who have come and gone with time, dancers flow and ebb from the side wings.  The choreography gets really interesting with the dancers performing their own unique phrasing, contrasting their movement, and initiating  interaction between each other. The music is pulsating, beautiful but also sleep-inducing, perhaps not the best work to end the evening.  Yet, the audience responds enthusiastically to the final moment of the dance.  In this work Petronio states,

“I am more drawn to information that is implied or concealed within the gesture and stage space, what is imagined and sensed as well as what is perceived. Ghostown…is a gathering place for memory and selves that have come before, resonate in some way, that are still vibrating with layers of meaning, imagined or real.”

Certainly one feels the resounding pulses of energy vibrating within themselves just watching Stephen Petronio’s amazing company.

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Official Dance Review by Lea McGowan
Performance: Stephen Petronio Company
Choreography: Stephen Petronio
Venue: The Joyce Theater, New York City
Performance Date: Tuesday April 27, 2010

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