March 12, 2016
Stephen Petronio joined the Trisha Brown Company in 1979, the year she created Glacial Decoy, her first work for the proscenium stage. To see this dance performed in silence as part of Petronio’s season at The Joyce Theatre is a chance to muse Brown’s specialness and her influence on a generation of dancers. Five women in diaphanous white costumes appear and disappear while Robert Rauschenberg’s black and white photos of every-day life (doors, cows, ocean views) are projected on the back wall. The matter of fact appeal of his images underscores the puff-free charm of the dance. The dancers appear distracted by contradictory thoughts as their patterns shift unexpectedly; legs swing high in effortless battements, their arms hang loose until needed for a half-gesture. Glacial Decoy is part of Petronio’s Bloodlines initiative to showcase prominent works by modern-dance pioneers.
Unlike some dancers who can never shed the stamp of a choreographer they’ve worked with, Petronio has fashioned his own look. Middlesexgorge, choreographed in 1990, forges a brutalist sensibility. Naked thighs are thrust in every direction against the insistent backbeat of the score -- Wire’s “Ambitious Plus” plus original music by Gareth Jones, remix by Paul Kendal and Wire. The period feel of the music, fueled in part by the terror of the AIDS epidemic, supports the vibrancy of the dancers, all of them strong: Davalois Feron constantly a stand-out. Costumes are minimal, except for two men who wear pants that might have been plucked from a Brazilian Carnival. Perhaps what Petronio absorbed from his 5 years with Brown was the merits of embracing his idiosyncrasies as his strengths.
Big Daddy (Deluxe, a world premiere, is commissioned by the American Dance Festival with support from the Doris Duke/SHS Foundations Award for New Dance. Sustaining an injury during the rehearsal process, Petronio began to spout text from his memoir, Confessions of a Motion Addict. He begins the dance with two other men, speaking while dancing, but very quickly retreats to a podium on stage to tell us about his father and family. We learn that his parents shared a mutual love of food and swing dancing.
Petronio slips in a graceful moment of couple dancing, but largely the dance does not illustrate his words, nor do his words match the invention of his choreography. For that, Big Daddy seems neither as unforgettable as Glacial Decoy, nor as galvanizing as Middlesexgorge.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers