STEPHEN PETRONIO COMPANY
April 4, 2017
In its third iteration, Stephen Petronio Company’s Bloodlines project adds dimension to lineage. Pairing past and present can easily read as a live power-point, but Petronio goes further, finding subtler dialogues. Juggling Judson giants Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton, as well as the west coast’s Anna Halprin, Petronio now traces his aesthetic genes more compositely, transcending his own story to indicate ideology in movement expression.
Opening the program were three of Yvonne Rainer’s early works. Diagonal is a blueprint for instant composition. Movement germs are labeled by spoken numbers and letters, complexifying as the value increases. Numbers denote single movements; letters correspond to short phrases that loop along the titular directionality. When not signaling the group’s next activity, dancers break off into another direction, circle the space, or stop completely until the herd retrieves them. A progenitor of what Trisha Brown would explore in Solo Olos, we see a more democratically dispersed choreography of choice-making, as well as the incentive to obey, protest, and work within structure to get one’s way.
Rainer’s iconic Trio A was performed as a trio, nude except for American flags hanging from the dancers’ necks, and then as a fully clothed quartet. A continuous sequence performed in independent timing, the flags added not so much biting political edge as inventive costumery, at times aprons, solitary pant legs, or ephemeral dresses. The two viewings differ like seeing an X-ray before meeting the patient.
Chair-Pillow is an infectious phrase, repeated strophically to Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High.” The music’s rapture is offset by deadpan interactions with huge white pillows that are treated not as pillows, but large, fluffy objects. Between verses, dancers scurry in, only to sit and stare blankly out while the previous group proceeds. As they stand to bow, the pillows catapult from their laps to the floor.
Rainer was the choreographer who rejected every dance trope before her. Petronio’s handling of the repertory does not always seem in alignment with the philosophy. In Diagonal, jumping as high as possible takes priority over playing within the infinitely lucrative choice-making structure with the savvy of a master chess player. It is impossible to ignore the immaculate bodies underneath the flags in Trio A, making the clothed second half a relief. As cheeky of a choice for Petronio himself to be seated for the last verse of Chair-Pillow, the ultimate payoff is seeing this company be so successfully and uncharacteristically un-sexy.
The Rainer pieces were an honorific nod to Judson’s attitude that gave Petronio a voice. Where we actually see direct connection to this voice is in Paxton and Halprin. Nicholas Sciscione drew the most direct parallel in Steve Paxton’s Goldberg Variations,. It distorts but does not object to balletic forms; lines emerge through jointy sequences and pedestrian poise, physicalizing Glenn Gould’s radical take on Bach. Petronio took to the stage with unusual vulnerability for Anna Halrpin’s The Courtesan and the Crone. Entirely covered in a jester-like uniform, seductively gesturing as he removes gloves, unbuttons his overcoat, and grimaces at his mask, Petronio is poignantly genuine in this comment on aging femininity.
We see Paxton’s kineticism and Halprin’s performative presence merge in Petronio’s Untitled Touch. Touched already by the hands printed on their shirts, dancers explore different connotations of contact – scientific tracings, manipulations, and functional spaceholds the held partner redefines as affection. More full-bodied partnering grapples with weight-bearing points of contact seemingly destined to fail. The common theme transforms constraint into strength, but with a sentimental score that constantly plays through the extended shirtless male duet that ends the pieces as the rest of the cast dissolve offstage, it feels distracted from physical resolution by physical beauty. It is not that Petronio hasn’t learned from his postmodern predecessors; he has taken what is useful to him, favoring investigations more kinetic than theoretical.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews