Mayfest is the only UK stop for New York’s dynamic Stephen Petronio Company, dealing in the frenetic rhythms of urban America, while Britain’s Siobhan
Davies, drawing inspiration from the USA’s rural landscapes, brings her company to Scotland for the first time. Alice Bain caught up with two of the brightest choreographic talents in world dance.
PETRONIO IN MOTION
The space race begins here. A city which cans its people in skyscrapers. with only atriums to spare. New York thrives on its force-fed diet of crush and crowds. Small wonder then that Stephen Petronio. one of Mayfest's star attractions. has been described as a choreographer who puts his dancers on a ‘collision course‘.
He agrees that the city where he has lived and nurtured his talent for the past twelve years inevitably jay-walks into his dance. "l’here‘s a lot going on all the time. a high level of noise emotionally. physically and visually.’ Opening with a reference to mugging. an exquisitely fearful but adrenalin pumping experience which once made him the victim. his high speed .S'imu/ut'rtmi Ree/s most readily defines that urban cacaphony.
But for Petronio. the city isone ol
many views which inspire and trigger choreographic response. Visual images from all mediums oflife. from television. film and video line up in equal measure to be edited and sliced into his own work. ‘I like to surround myselfwith as much imagery as possible. I cut things out and save things from everywhere and we are bombarded with electronic images at a very fast pace. But when you look at a phrase in one of my dances. you won‘t say well. here‘s that. there's that. this is that. there's this. Sometimes a photograph will just give me a feeling. I won‘t necessarily take the shape directly from the photograph. It's all a springboard for movement invention for me.‘
l lis career springboard was Hampshire ('ollege. Massachusetts. an establishment which carried the experimental tag to which Petronio chose to align himselfearly on. even though dance was not at first his principal interest. After the first dance class at 18. there was no choice. Dance took hold.
It was at college that he came into contact vs ith Steve l’axton. the
accepted inventor and guru of that most elusive ofdance forms. contact improvisation. a technique which relies simply on dancers shifting their weight against other dancers in an unrehcarsed and unstructured way. Results can be as electrifying as a runaway sax going full-throttle down an uncharted score. ‘Frankly I had not seen a lot ofdance then. and I was boggled by contact and thought it was the most amazing thing I’d seen.‘ That influence still ripples through the heart of Petronio‘s work. ‘Being supported by someone lets you stretch out and connect. Another thing about contact is that it gave me the sense of looking for a unusual results. I think that‘s stayed with me. The search for new personal vocabulary - improvising with a set ofstructures gives very movement and idiosyncratic development all started here.’
Leaving college. Petronio moved to New York and began fighting for his place as an artist among many. ‘I thought I was too clumsy to be a dancer. but I basically had a frantic desire to have my body match my imagination. I took class eight hours a day. Well.‘ he chuckles. ‘l was only l9 years old and I thought I was going to be a star!‘
Always in the front line of experimentation. Petronio was selected by the highly original and inﬂuential dance-makerTrisha Brown and for the next seven years developed as a dancer ofgreat charisma and handsome wit. During that time he continued to make and develop his own choreography. a course in which Brown actively encouraged him. ‘She's a great woman. a genius. I was pushed to do things with her that I had no ideal could do. just by being in the room with her. She‘s that kind of person.‘
Founding his own company in 198-1. Petronio has become that rising star in the dazzling firmament of New York choreographers which he had less modestly predicted as a young man. With tours to Europe already under his belt. he visits Scotland for the first time. armed with an excellent pedigree and swatch of glowing reviews which vouch unreservedly for his racy talent. (ilasgow will be his only UK date this trip which takes in Berlin and Lisbon. a fact which became doubly satisfying for the Mayfest dance organiser when Petronio announced just before the festival began that he would be bringing along a world premiere just for good
"l‘his new piece is a real departure for me. It’s for four women. the first time I've made apiece for women. and a lot of the movement was made through instruction rather than showing them a lot ofsteps. 'l'here's
a lot of lifting and touching and throwing.‘ Hinting at its content he continues. ‘lt shows the representation ofwomen in art. There's always this Madonna incline to the head which is sort of used as a central image to jump offand eventually eradicate.‘ A riddle wrapped fairly heavily in the American use of language which sounds so logical until you try to unravel its meaning. And the mystery magnifies under the title which offers the most candid instruction of them all (‘Iose Your Eyes and Think offing/and.
When watching Stephen Petronio and his seven dancers. it is unlikely that eyes. or indeed imaginations
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