“Without You II,” “The Ship Song,” “Bud Suite,” “This is the Story of a Girl in a World,” “ReBourne”
Stephen Petronio Company
Joyce Theater
New York, NY
April 26, 2007

by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2007 by Leigh Witchel

Stephen Petronio’s company is always fabulous, and that’s a compliment most of the time. Petronio understands fabulous; how to find it, how to acquire it and especially how to work it. His costumes, by Paul Compitus, Tara Subkoff/Imitation of Christ and H. Petal range from unitards with the most discreet shark’s fin at the nape of the neck to quasi-military beefcake soft-core porn, if Michael Badger’s magnificent six-pack abs can be considered a costume. The music Petronio uses, from gay underground cult singer Antony’s haunting and vulnerable vocals to Rufus Wainwright to the Beastie Boys, rarely condescends to slum with the bourgeoisie. The dancing and the gorgeous, loose limbed dancers are fabulous. If you just let it wash over you, the whole evening was pretty fabulous. But fabulous was the only dish on the menu and it’s not a varied diet.

“Without You II,” a premiere, was a striking beginning. A solo that became a duet, Badger whipped, drooped and flailed to music by Placebo in Ken Tabachnick’s striking overhead lighting that looked as if it were sunlight through a cloister window. Badger has solid training credentials (in this case, the School of American Ballet) and facility; all of the dancers seem to move unhampered by hip joints. Wearing only khaki undershorts and a dog tag, he was joined by Elena Demyanenko in a similar outfit, only with a sports bra added for propriety.  Even in Badger’s hairstyle, a High and Tight crewcut, there were overtones of the military, but why those hints were there was never made clear. The main thing on show was the dancers’ prodigious ability.

The lights dimmed and came up on “The Ship Song,” a poignantly brief excerpt from a longer piece made in 2003 for Sydney Dance Company. Four dancers, two women and two men including Petronio himself, formed a line that continually threatened collapse. To wistful music by Nick Cave, the partnering draws from Contact Improvisation as the couples found ambisexual support in each other’s arms, though the boys got to kiss each other and the girls didn’t.

“Men reading fashion magazines. Oh what a world it seems we live in,” Wainwright laments as Badger and Gino Grenek dance an antic duet in “Bud Suite.” The costumes, by Subkoff and Petal take thrift shop fabulous and push it right off the meter; someone took a scissors to a suit jacket and split it between the two men.  Even an intermission between “Bud Suite” and “This is the Story of A Girl in a World” couldn’t dim the similarity between the two works. Strip away the production elements and they’re much the same dance. The latter is a preview of a work in progress set to have its premiere next year, so there is still time for it to acquire its own individuality.

“ReBourne,” from 1997, ended the evening in an amiably calculated fashion much like the closing ballet would at any ballet company. An abstract work that showcased the sleek power of his full company, the work went on after Petronio had exhausted what he had to say, but that never seemed to be the point. Where other choreographers might ask, “Why?” and the need to answer that question is the impulse for choreography, Petronio seems to ask, “Wouldn’t it be fabulous if?”  Most of the time he’s right; it would be fabulous if a handsome man wore khaki undershorts and a dogtag and danced to Techno.  But like eating a pound of chocolate and other fabulous things, it’s better in smaller doses contrasted with more substantial dishes.

Volume 5, No. 17
April 30, 2007

copyright ©2007 by Leigh Witchel

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