STEPHEN PETRONIO CO. AND MERCE CUNNINGHAM
April 12, 2015
There has been much soul-searching among the modern dance community as of late. Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance laid a pathway on which classic and contemporary voices can forever mingle. This week, Stephen Petronio Company commences its Bloodlines initiative. While they may appear as projects one and the same, they scratch deeply different itches. As Taylor continues to work as Taylor does, meanwhile establishing a multi-generational choreographic open door policy, Petronio will always be the youngest choreographer in his programming, tracing a family tree of postmodern pioneers. He, too, is continuing to create, but, in doing so, is making himself susceptible to the influence of whichever iconoclast he chooses to share a bill with next.
Petronio opens with Locomotor/Non Locomotor. Melissa Toogood barrels onstage in a solo of runs, hops, leaps, and inclines that send her spiraling into new trajectories as though shot from an offstage canon. Her paths are reinforced by duets hurling backwards with the same vocabulary of flicking knee joints on fulcrums of teetering peg-legs in rapidly ridden curves of an electron cloud in which Toogood is the nucleus. Partnering is an obstacle as Nicholas Sciscione, suspended dangerously close to the floor by Gino Grenek, reclaims a path with his knees. Despite the Joyce’s spatial generosity, dancers maneuver as though squeezing through tight quarters. When they all co-inhabit the stage, such strategies become necessary to pass through negative space when put on shuffle.
While Emily Stone smuggles in red accents for Locomotor, Davalois Fearon delivers on herself a bright blue leotard amidst Narciso Rodriguez’s sleek neutral forms in its antithetical sequel. Grenek, Sciscione, and Joshua Tuason stand like male Caryatids in florid utility. They gesture inward while Fearon leaps among them, adhering to her own logic. When contact is made, she is rolled up like a scroll and unraveled, standing minus one leg left horizontal. Movements tighten and shift dimensions until bodies no longer travel through space so much as they allow space to surge within them.
The curtain, like a floodgate, opens once more, releasing Andy Warhol’s silver pillows into the house, a reminder of Petronio’s taste for collaborations so utterly New York. Excitement simmers as the opening tableau of Merce Cunningham’s Rainforest is uncluttered. To see so much stillness after so much motion is unsettling; it helps to punch away an approaching pillow or two (ultimately participating in David Tudor’s soundscore) while acclimating to a radically different expression of time. The 1968 masterpiece is comprised of considerably more quirk than line. Triplets initiated by jerking hips to sensual morning stretches look at home on a Petronio dancer. Even Toogood, a Cunningham Fellow, uses the company’s distal sensibility to allow herself to be swept up to new extremes as she swings in straddles and directs a cabriole to propel between corners.
It takes guts for a choreographer to close his own show with the work of another. Such humility highlights dance-making over dance-maker, and rightfully so. For Petronio, a fervent believer in the dance company as research hub, adopting equally idiosyncratic movement languages is the ultimate experiment. Translation requires something to translate. It is not common generalities, but shared specificities that build bridges.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews