Stephen Petronio Company is presenting five nights of performances at the Joyce Theater this week as part of its 30th anniversary and the launch of its Bloodlines project. For the inauguration of Bloodlines, the dancers are performing Merce Cunningham’s RainForest (1968). The five-year project will involve SPDC dancers performing works by Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Anna Halprin, and others, as well. (For more insight, check out this interview with artistic director and choreographer Stephen Petronio and Dd’s own Nicole Cerutti.)
On Tuesday’s opening night, the dancers shone in Locomotor/Non Locomotor, Mr. Petronio’s two-part piece with a score by Clams Casino. Locomotor had its premiere last year, and the Joyce performances this week mark the premiere of its companion, Non Locomotor. The dancers, clad in Narciso Rodriguez costumes, careen around the stage literally by leaps and bounds, moving (backwards as often as forwards) in complex patterns. At parts, the dancers move as though along a conveyor belt or like cogs in a watch, to exciting effect. I was continually surprised by Mr. Petronio’s choreography; the eye looks for repetitions and patterns to track and my search was continually thwarted by the dancers’ rapid shifts of direction and rhythm. The piece’s strengths are its rigor, its deliberate rhythm, and the way abandon and immense energy are harnessed with precision. The dancers move together beautifully while preserving their individual qualities. Bravo to Mr. Petronio for assembling such a fine group; they all deserve mention by name: Davalois Fearon, Gino Grenek, Barrington Hinds, Jaqlin Medlock, Nicholas Sciscione, Emily Stone, Joshua Tuason, and guest artist Melissa Toogood.
I found Locomotor’s companion, Non Locomotor somewhat less engaging. It paired three men (Gino Grenek, Nicholas Sciscione, and Joshua Tuason) with Davalois Fearon; they moved in place more and through space less, and their movements were more gestural. This was the intention, as Mr. Petronio explains in his program notes: “My new two-part work Locomotor/Non Locomotor is a meditation on the contrast between hurling energy through space and transiting energy that’s contained within the body.” Non Locomotor was action-packed in its own way, but the movement seemed less finely-crafted and intricate to me.
RainForest was over before I knew it; the dance is only 18 minutes long! That’s just barely enough time for two dancers, Davalois Fearon and Gino Grenek in Tuesday’s cast, to set up the space with movements that are at first slow then build in intensity and speed, only to have Nicholas Sciscione crash their party. This is followed by a series of entrances, exits, solos, and duets of three other dancers (Joshua Tuason, Emily Stone, and Melissa Toogood–reprising her role from the Cunningham company’s revival of RainForest) and a closing solo from Mr. Grenek, in Merce Cunningham’s role. I cannot speak to the revival’s “faithfulness.” I will say that Andy Warhol’s floating silver pillows/clouds stole the show, especially for those with short attention spans, as they wafted from the stage into the audience, either becoming trapped in the rafters of the theater or falling onto audience members’ heads more like beach balls at a concert than elements of stage design.
Bloodlines is a way for Petronio to open his single choreographer company to include the work of others, a recent trend among troupes like Martha Graham Dance Company and Paul Taylor Dance Company. The premise that Mr. Petronio picked these artists as his dance ancestors and biggest influences is not especially compelling; wouldn’t many choreographers of his generation who worked in and around New York have many of the same selections? As far as lineage, I’m not entirely convinced by this genealogy. I suspect that the meaningful relationships created during Bloodlines will be between the dancers and personnel who stage the work, and not between the dances (Petronio’s new work and the reconstructed works) themselves.
The presentation of RainForest was a way to showcase something from the past alongside something current, and it diversified the evening’s offerings in terms of movement vocabulary and style. What makes Bloodlines compelling and special is that it’s a way to keep works from the past alive, to preserve dance history. It’s also a brilliant marketing strategy. Petronio’s selections will be works by choreographers who are already widely admired and audiences (at least in New York, and hopefully nationally and internationally) will want to see these works. It seems like a viable way to expand the audience at least a little bit. Perhaps many who question their interest in Mr. Petronio’s choreography will come see his company because they love watching Lucinda Childs’ work instead. Whatever gets them to the theater.