Magazine article The Spectator

Hypnotic Change

Magazine article The Spectator

Hypnotic Change

Article excerpt

Dance Umbrella

(Queen Elizabeth Hall)

For many, Stephen Petronio is the American contemporary choreographer known for having created a dance genre in which a powerful choreographic content is complemented by equally powerful and controversial visual devices, such as intriguing or shocking costumes. In addition, his works have often been regarded as politically dense ones, where specific and often uncomfortable statements are constantly embedded either in the danced action or in the intentionally provocative imagery.

It would not have been surprising, therefore, if some dance-goers were slightly disappointed at the performance of his company, with which this year's Dance Umbrella took off last week. It would appear, in fact, that in his most recent creations Petronio has discarded, if not refuted, those well-established canons. With the exception of #4, where a rather disturbing porcupine-like costume immediately draws the attention of the viewer, the other dances presented in the same programme stand out more for their technical and choreographic density than for their visual and metaphorical apparatus. Indeed, in the 1997 two-part creation ReBOURNE, the different costuming of the dancers reflects, as in a colourcoded score, the particular phrasing of the choreography and the complex nuances of the constantly varying relationship between the music and the movement.

Yet, an appreciation of both the structure and the dynamic developments of the danced action does not require a full study of the dancers' attire. The controversial subtext to be found in Petronio's early work is superseded by a true celebration of movement for movement's sake. This particular choreographic approach, however, does not lack visual power. The chosen vocabulary - in which echoes of Petronio's past experiences with Trisha Brown can be easily detected - as well as the chosen syntax stem from a thorough exploration of diverse possibilities which, in the end, results in a dazzling variety of choreographic solutions.

It could be said - and it has been said - that Petronio has moved backwards. There is little doubt that choreographic ideas such as the repetition of the same dance phrase in diverse visual and musical contexts, as well as the related concept of movement exploration can hardly be seen as innovations. Still, it is Petronio's unique and - for those who do not have the chance of following him closely - unexpected way of approaching these solutions that confers a special quality to his recent creations and hints at a kind of progression, based on an in-depth rethinking of the past. …

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