BY BRIAN MCCORMICK
Chelsea’s very own rite of spring happens every April at the Joyce Theater, when sexuality blossoms onstage in the form of Stephen Petronio Company. As life begins anew, lithe and sensuous bodies, always fashionably attired, take to the stage, their pulsing pelvises commanding as much attention as their quick lifts, pikes, high kicks, and slicing arabesque turns, arranged in all kinds of pairings and group entanglements.
Dressed by the hottest clothing designers, and dancing to music by equally hot avant-garde composers and singer/song writers, Stephen Petronio and his awesome dancers celebrate the season of rebirth with an eruption of moving art.
The world premiere on this year’s program is “Beauty and the Brut,” set to a commissioned scored by the art-rock band Fischerspooner (Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner), with costumes by celebrity designer Benjamin Cho. In this full company work, “the story of a freaky American guy seducing a French woman on the beach,” as the choreographer put it, serves as the backdrop for unlikely pairings.
In one sequence, two dancers twist, and collapse into each other. They touch, lean, turn away from, turn back to, and then embrace one another.
“It’s a bit different from what we’ve done before,” said Petronio, “because there’s a narrative to it,” in both the lyrics and the set-ups. It’s a splendid piece, but the choreographer suggested that the other premiere will be the piece that “people will be talking about.”
“This is the Story of a Girl in a World” is a group of five related dances set to songs by the amazing Antony (Hegarty) of Antony and the Johnsons, and the 26-year-old composer genius Nico Muhly. Each dance delves into gender constructs and representations, blurring the boundaries. The suite includes last season’s “For Today I am a Boy,” a solo for the extraordinary trans-drogynous Davalois Fearon, and the trio “Bird Gerhl” with fabulous black punk costumes by Tony Cohen. Three new works complement these sumptuous delights.
A duet for Michael Badger and Elena Demianenko, danced in silence, pays tribute through movement and gesture to female icons who have used their bodies as canvas. The choreographer derived the dance from photographs of these famous figures in dance, performance art, and burlesque, including Isadora Duncan, Meredith Monk, Simone Forti, and many, many others. For those who recognize the references, it’s a wonderful added treat.
“Candy Says,” set to a new recording of the classic Velvet Underground song performed by Lou Reed and Antony, is particularly moving. The song, an homage to Warhol star Candy Darling, is interpreted with sensitivity and resolve in every movement and gesture. Dancer Julian De Leon is a stand-out in this piece among the men, possessing and expressing masculine and feminine qualities with equal regard, bearing, and purpose.
Petronio first heard Antony sing the song at St. Ann’s Warehouse, as part of Lou Reed’s “Berlin” concert.
“I leaned forward in my seat during the performance,” the choreographer exclaimed, “and went and found a version that was about ten years old, and began making a dance to it.”
When Petronio began collaborating with Antony and mentioned that he was almost finished choreographing the piece, the singer asked which version he was using “because there was one version he really hated. Sure enough,” said Petronio, “it was the version I was using. He didn’t like the way he was singing. So, there was a new, unreleased version from the ‘Berlin’ concert film. I didn’t want to ask Lou for it,” explained the choreographer, “because that’s a big deal.” In the end, he did get the new recording, but, as he had suspected, it was a different duration.
“I though I had the perfect dance,” recalled the choreographer, “and now I had 30 seconds to cut.”
If anything, the challenge only made the art and the artist better for having gone through a meticulous editing process.
Concluding the opus is “Girl in a World” set to Muhly’s haunting and hopeful composition “Keep in Touch,” with vocals by Antony, and all eight dancers Badger, Demianenko, De Leon, Fearon, Jonathan Jaffe, Mandy Kirschner, Shila Tirabassi, and Amanda Wells.
The energetic and pleasing “BLOOM” from 2005, to a commissioned score by Rufus Wainwright singing the poetry of Dickinson and Whitman, completes the program, with live accompaniment by the Young People’s Chorus of New York.
In celebration of the Joyce’s 25th anniversary season, tickets to the evening performance on April 6 are $25. There will be a post-performance talk on April 2.