Bud Suite, BLOOM, and The Rite Part,
presented by Stephen Petronio Company

At UCSB’s Campbell Hall, Wednesday, January

Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer

Petronino1%20Web.jpgLights up on two men in tight red
underpants, each wearing half a suit jacket held to his body by a
row of black elastic straps. One man leans heavily on the other’s
back, slips off, grasps at a dangling arm and sends his companion
into a whipping corkscrew turn. Scythe-like arms slash through the
air with lethal efficiency, joints fold and buckle. “Why am I
always on a plane or a fast train?” croons Rufus Wainwright, as the
two men tussle. With a sudden burst of violence, one man yanks the
other past him and then busts a breathtaking arabesque.

This is choreography that tests the limits of physical
possibility. Set on lesser dancers, this kind of movement would be
painful to watch — you’d see the absurd difficulty of it, sense the
struggle. These dancers, though, have been tempered by fire. They
are tough, taut, and relentlessly agile. They perform with maximum
intensity, pushing beyond extreme exertion and hardly noticing. On
and on they go — tossing limbs with total abandon, yet maintaining
pyrotechnical precision. In this kind of commitment to movement,
there’s absolute security for the audience; the movement never
seems chosen because it’s within reach. Instead, anything seems
possible, as if, were the dancers to levitate or sprout extra
limbs, it wouldn’t surprise anyone in the slightest.

All this intensity is infinitely satisfying to any admirer of
athletic and technical prowess or choreographic virtuosity, but
even those who like it hard and fast need to come up for air once
in a while. And Petronio doesn’t allow much breathing space. Even
in the relatively gentle BLOOM, the new group piece set to
Wainwright’s lovely and wide-ranging choral score, there’s a
relentless push and a refusal of respite. In fact, the more
Petronio holds back from the more familiar language of savage
space-eating and breakneck speed, the more he seems frustrated,
even passive-aggressive, finally sending his dancers flying back
and forth and back again across the stage at a furious pace,
leaping in full contractions as if pursued and tortured

It’s in The Rite Part, his 15-year-old take on Nijinsky’s 1913
ballet, The Rite of Spring, that Petronio really lets his Italian
temper rage, imbuing one sinuous female soloist with awesome fury,
agony, and power. When she unleashes it all in an orgiastic
explosion, nothing is withheld. That’s what I call pure Petronio:
unbridled, aggressive, and unadulterated.


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