Stephen Petronio |A New York contemporary movement


Over the last 30 years Stephen Petronio has established himself, and his company, as one of the most influential and thrilling forces in American dance. Ahead of an anniversary season at the Joyce in New York, he talked to Civilian about some of his landmark productions

30 years of Stephen Petronio

Vibrate (2006), photography by Sarah Silver – featuring Shila Tirabassi, Davalois Fearon, Amanda Wells and Elena Demianenko

“What it feels like to perform, to be on the wild intuitive moment of abandon: Letting go into a score of movement that is so deep in your muscles it needs no conscious thought but is like some invisible guide moving you through the dance and moving through your body that HAS surrendered to it. It’s like being completely lost to your self but sensing exactly where you are in space and where you must go. Sometimes inspired. Sometime mundane.” – Confessions of a Motion Addict by Stephen Petronio

Petronio began his career as the first male dancer with the Trisha Brown Dance Company, and is currently Artist-in-Residence at The Joyce Theatre in New York. His iconoclastic works – defined by an incredible dynamism from the pelvic axis – fuse eclectic elements of pop culture and the avant-garde to often explosive effect. His constantly growing list of collaborators has included Imitation of Christ, Leigh Bowery, Diamanda Galas and Laurie Anderson; artists Yoko Ono, Anish Kapoor and Cindy Sherman; Nick Cave, Michael Nyman, Lou Reed and Nico Muhly.

Vibrate [pictured above] featured Shila Tirabassi, Davalois Fearon, Amanda Wells and Elena Demianenko. It was a play on the sweet image of the female muse in dance, from a more feminist perspective of raucous/elegant and playful power. Rufus Wainwright’s song is about desire, expressed through the wait for the buzz from a cellphone, indicating that one is wanted. The women in this dance aren’t waiting around for anyone.”

Babette Magnolte 5

Walk-In (1986), photography by Babette Magnolte

Walk-In was inspired by the notion of foreign entities overtaking the body at the moment of death and reinvigorating them with new purpose. I employed a series of found photographs to anchor and interrupt the movement making process. The work won a New York Dance and Performance (Bessie) award that year. I consider it the work that shot me out of the cannon professionally and into the world of European touring.”

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City of Twist (2002), photography by Sarah Silver – featuring Jimena Paz

“City of Twist was one of the first dances where the dancers were alluding to character, not driven in a narrative, but as a collection of personal attributes that governed their moving behaviour.”

30 years of Stephen Petronio

Island of Misfit Toys (2003), photography by Sarah Silver – featuring Amanda Wells

Island of Misfit Toys was made after 9/11 as a love letter to the unique and idiosyncratically crazed cultural misfits that drive New York City culture. The music was by the iconic Lou Reed and the visuals by Cindy Sherman.”

30 years of Stephen Petronio

Underland (2011) photography by Sara Silver – featuring Reed Luplau and Natalie Mackessy

Underland was a journey through a dark and lawless post-apocalyptic world, propelled by the songs, instrumentals and prose of Australian genius of Nick Cave.”

30 years of Stephen Petronio

MiddleSex Gorge (1990), photography by Chris Nash – featuring Stephen Petronio

MiddleSex Gorge was an anthem for sexual empowerment and issues of control. It was the dance in which I crystalised the pelvis forward, aggressive motor that has become a hallmark of my language. I shopped for the corset on 8th Street in NY in an orthopedic foundation shop and began building the piece from there.”