March 9, 2012 9:17 pm

Stephen Petronio, Joyce Theater, New York

Amanda Wells assumed extreme off-balances that would have gone splat without Joshua Green’s intervention

How do you describe loss in such a pervasively vital idiom as Stephen Petronio’s? In his company’s season premiere, The Architecture of Loss, the dancer/choreographer tried various approaches, with varying success. Dressed in high-end sackcloth, some dancers stood like pillars while others wended around them. Was this frozen forest a dread reminder of mortality or a crowded, ghostly comfort against it? The geometry of the still and mobile was not nuanced enough to say.

At another point, limpid, glamorous Amanda Wells assumed extreme off-balances that would have gone splat without Joshua Green’s steadfast intervention. But for us to feel the pathos of their precarious duet rather than simply recognise it, Wells needed to lose her balance more often or less. The rhythm was off.

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The most affecting moment – at once heart-wrenching and hopeful – addressed loss obliquely. Julian De Leon and Joshua Tuason used each other as ballast to piston up and down in a whirling storm of effort that seemed finally to clear a path through grief.

Before the opening night crowd, Petronio had started with a solo by someone else. His early mentor, the 1960s maverick Steve Paxton, concocted Intravenous Lecture, which involves both talking and movement, after a producer refused a dance because it featured 40 topless women.

The lecture-demo’s subject then, as now, was censorship. Petronio, decked out in cellmate chic and trailing an IV, provided his own examples as he addressed his audience from the stage. In late 1980s London, he was arrested for venturing out in a Vivienne Westwood shirt that displayed one cowboy sodomising another. “In New York,” the cocky charmer informed the arresting officer, “we have freedom of T-shirt.” Last year in the US, a backdrop projection of a demure female nude had to be downsized: the breasts exceeded regulation limits.

“My head is connected to my tits, to my balls, to my ass,” Petronio protested jubilantly. I don’t know about the first two, but the bum – the pelvis floor – definitely drives his impassive, voluptuous style. In the ensemble pieces, the virtuosic dancers unfurled their legs like time-lapse flowers stretching towards a rising sun; only the foot was a closed bud. The rooted spine fluttered and waved: these 12 beautiful bodies seemed unburdened by bone.

3 stars

www.joyce.org

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