Behind the Scenes with Jodi Melnick and Stephen Petronio

Behind the Scenes with Jodi Melnick and Stephen Petronio
Trina Mannino/Follow @Trinamannino on Twitter

By Trina Mannino/Follow @Trinamannino on Twitter
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Published on January 3, 2013

Behind the Scenes with Jodi Melnick and Stephen Petronio

FOCUS DANCE, Female Animals and Flirting in Cars

December 2012

Trina Mannino for The Dance Enthusiast


I was nervous to interview Jodi Melnick and Stephen Petronio together at the Joyce Soho this past December. They are contemporary dance innovators, but I also imagined them to be a larger-than-life and perhaps, an intimidating pair. I quickly forgot my jitters as I became engrossed by the two affable dance compatriots sharing old "war" stories. Our conversation spanned from what it was like for both artists to work with Trisha Brown to what it was like for the two to make out together in a film project by Brown's husband, Burt Barr. While the "make-out" footage for Barr's film is difficult to come by, if you would like to see Petronio and Melnick together again, you can catch them at their shared FOCUS DANCE performances on January 8th and 13th at the Joyce Theater.

Petronio will be showing excerpts from his recent works Underland and The Architecture of Loss along with a five-minute preview of his upcoming piece Like Lazarus Did. The choreographer is very familiar with collaborating with musicians and visual artists and Like Lazarus Did is no exception. Petronio's composer, Ryan Lott, is developing a score for the new work based on American slave spirituals. “What I like most about these songs is that they were sung by the most oppressed people, but the songs are still very uplifting,” says Petronio. “I felt that the dichotomy was perfect for a theatrical work.”


Jodi Melnick in Solo, (Re)Deluxe Version; Alex Escalante

Melnick, on the other hand, will be showing one work, Solo, (Re)Deluxe Version with music by People Get Ready/Steven Reker. “It is such a thrill to dance to live music in my own work, but to have the band onstage is even better,” says Melnick.

Melnick’s and Petronio have admired one another as performers and choreographers for many years and are friends. During the 1980s and ’90s when Petronio was finding his own voice with his company, Melnick was performing with Twyla Tharp (1990-1994) and had a presence in the downtown dance scene. Their paths crossed a number of times before they developed a friendship.

Stephen Petronio Company's Reed Luplau and Natalie Mackessy in Underland; Sarah Silver

“I saw lightening speed, incredible use of space and inventive movement while watching Stephen’s company,” reflects Melnick about the Stephen Petronio Company early years. “I was gobsmacked and assaulted by his work,” she says with a laugh.

“The first thing I saw, was a solo Jodi performed and choreographed at The Kitchen,” says Petronio. “I could see how she was developing her personal and emotional terrain to make something beyond confessional art. That was very powerful and important for me to see.”

Both artists have worked with legend, Trisha Brown, a fact which brings them closer together. Petronio was the first male dancer in Brown's company, and Melnick has worked with Brown as a guest artist and assistant director for opera projects. Despite the different types of experiences,they are deeply influenced by Brown’s work.

Jodi Melnick in Solo, (Re)Deluxe Version; Alex Escalante

“I spent so many years trying to figure out the differences between Trisha and me,” says Petronio. “In the past, when Trisha [her movement] used to come into my body I would think I had to edit it out, but now I see it as a gift.”

Though Melnick never danced in Brown’s company, her liquidity and precision is a nod to the choreographers influence. Petronio says it best, “The connection that I see between Jodi and Trisha is that they’re deep female animals. I think it has a lot to do with how they take time to get to where they’re going.”

Melnick and Petronio continue to challenge and reinvent themselves as mature movers and dance makers. “Any of things I can longer do, I’m happy to say that I’m no longer interested in them,” says Melnick with a smile.

Stephen Petronio Company's Barrington Hinds and Natalie Mackessy in Underland; Sarah Silver

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