IMPRESSIONS: A Weekend of Dance in November in Three Parts: Stephen Petronio and Company, Petronio Punk Picks and Other Delights (Part 1)

IMPRESSIONS: A Weekend of Dance in November in Three Parts: Stephen Petronio and Company, Petronio Punk Picks and Other Delights (Part 1)
Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram

By Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram
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Published on December 7, 2021
Stephen Petronio Company in Vibrate (2006);Julie Lemberger

full credit for title photo: VIBRATE (2006) Excerpt from Bud Suite Choreography: Stephen Petronio Dancers: Jaqlin Medlock (facing), Kris Lee, Tess Montoya, Tiffany Ogburnas part of Petronio Punk Picks and Other Delights at La Mama ;Photo by Julie Lemberger

New York City. It’s way too expensive. There’s not enough space.  Crime is up and the place certainly looks grittier since the first wave of the pandemic.  But… barring more shutdowns from the dastardly Omicron mutation, our Twilight Zone Marathon of an existence, has been welcomely interrupted by the return of live theater. People, once afraid to breathe together in the same room, have left their solitary spaces for peopled venues. Now, I remember why I live here.

In one weekend I attended Yin Yue’s premiere at the historic home of American modern dance, the 92nd Street Y; sat in a semicircle with 24 other souls in midtown’s Theater Lab, where I contemplated motherhood’s mythology with Stefanie Nelson and friends; then, whisked my way downtown to the La Mama Experimental Theater for a rare revisit of iconic older work by contemporary dance maestro, Stephen Petronio. I’ve been starving for this vibrancy, eclecticism, and intense physical commitment to art.

As Petronio claimed, heartily clanging a school bell to signal the start his performance, “We are here to reclaim our history as physical beings in the real world.”

Amen, to that.

PART 1: Petronio Punk Picks and Other Delights

November 21 at La MaMa Experimental Theatre
Artistic Director/Choreographer: Stephen Petronio
Stephen Petronio Company Performers: Larissa Asebedo, Jaqlin Medlock, Tess Montoya, Ryan Pliss, Nicholas Sciscione, Mac Twining with Guest Artists: Kriss Lee and Tiffany Ogburn and Guest Performer: Johnnie Cruise Mercer, Company Director/ Performer of TheREDprojectNYC


“What is and isn’t punk?”

We’re at Stephen Petronio’s last performance of his run at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre when he poses that question. Once upon a time, La Mama’s East Village nabe was also Petronio’s, and a big influence on his work. But —surprise, surprise—he’s never performed there.

two women in long white  shirts and red short red pants with a tall of netted tulle kick up their leg in unison

Excerpt from Bud Suite Choreography: Stephen Petronio
Dancers: Tess Montoya (left) & Kris Lee
as part of Petronio Punk Picks and Other Delights at La Mama
Photo by Julie Lemberger

For his neighborhood debut, Petronio, along with La MaMa’s visionary curator Nicky Paraiso, arranged an evening of revived, re-imagined pieces from the 90’s onward - excerpts of larger works, many done to music that inspired the choreographer during his formative Village days. We hear Yoko Ono, Rufus Wainwright, The Stranglers, The London Suede, surprisingly even Elvis Presley and Stravinsky. (Punks?) Petronio calls these excerpts “the golden key to his aesthetic” and defines punk as anything he decides it to be.

OK then.

two women resembling angels in short white unitards with flowing white shawls stand with legs wide apart and stare outwards as a male dancer in shorts flies high above them in the crest of a leap

CREEP (2007)
Excerpt from Foreign Import
Choreography: Stephen Petronio Dancers: Tiffany Ogburn (left) Larissa Asebedo, , Ryan Pliss
as part of Petronio Punk Picks and Other Delights at La Mama
Photo by Julie Lemberger

Electricity radiates from the stage and is all the more palpable because we are unusually close to the dancers. Some of us even luck into the seats set up at small cabaret-like tables on the edges of downstage.  There we can notice details of expression and gesture. I catch the extraordinary interpreter of Petronio, Nicholas Sciscione, kissing the breast of one of his fellow performers as he winds through the company in SHE SAYS (1993). Neither a declaration or exclamation, that particular move represents the full-out, in-the-moment passion that defines Petronio’s oeuvre in general.

Petronio unabashedly expresses his reality. Rather than eschewing classical technique, he upends it. Quirky angles, jolting directions, unexpected shifts, rhythms, striking costumes, sex, sensuality, angst, and wit explode classical form to address what’s raw, real, and poignant.

Mac Twining in white underwear, bent leg arabesque, with a large capsule on his back

Excerpt from Drawn That Way Choreography: Stephen Petronio Dancer: Mac Twining as part of Petronio Punk Picks and Other Delights at La Mama.

In SLEEPING PILLS (1996) excerpt from Drawn That Way, Mac Twining, a lone, beautiful, erotic presence dressed only in underwear, glides about his world in an ethereal trance, hitting alarmingly perfect arabesques. A clear bubble attached to his back, much like those old swimming contraptions that help kids float, is filled with white pills. Angel, addict, dreamer, or escapist, we wonder if Twining resides in bliss or in purgatory swimming on valium waves?

How unlikely that a figure in patent leather S+M head gear, with a strappy matching leather bodice, and body-conforming everything else would elicit laughter. But, in LOVE ME TENDER (1993/2021) excerpt from The King is Dead, Sciscione’s accents on Elvis Presley’s key words and phrases, “love me sweet, never let me go” do so with tongue-in-cheek “bad boy” humor. Yet, despite the moments of lightness, and the strangeness of seeing this get up as a dance costume, we feel a deep and lonely yearning in Sciscione’s performance. It’s the same with Ryan Pliss in FOR TODAY I AM A BOY (2008) excerpt from This is the Story of a Girl in a World. The spirit is at once smashingly strong yet vulnerable.

Nicholas Scisione, in Hot pink patent leather S+M Head and chest gear leans into right lieg extends arem down sort of a Nijinksy pose

LOVE ME TENDER (1993/2021)
Excerpt from The King Is Dead Choreography: Stephen Petronio Dancer: Nicholas Sciscione
as part of Petronio Punk Picks and Other Delights at La Mama
Photo by Julie Lemberger.

The oldest pieces on the program are from 1993, the newest from this year. Yet the dances address questions young people continue to ask themselves and probably always will. Who am I? Where am I? Can I get to a better place? Can I love who I want to love? Can you love me as I am? Can you love me when I am not yet who I want to be? How do I fit in to the world? If not asking questions , the excerpts lay bare youth’s open spirit and and fire. Jaqlin Medlock, another valiant interpreter of Petronio’s work, reveals alluring receptivity in her performance of PRE-WEEP (2011) excerpt from Underland and cheeky spunk in DANSE SACRAL (1993), exquisitely performed to Stravinsky’s Le Sacre Du Printemps.

Jaqlin Medlock in a light colored unitard hovers in mid air,her toes touching and the shape of her legs in the air resemble a diamond

Excerpt from Full Half Wrong
Choreography: Stephen Petronio Dancer: Jaqlin Medlock
as part of Petronio Punk Picks and Other Delights at La Mama

What an opportunity to absorb the details of Petronio’s larger works up close and danced with such brilliance.

Johnie Cruise Mercer in a red and black checked lumberjack shirt, olive pants and red sneakers, jumps and reaches into the air. Behind him is a table with a red cloth and a black wooden bench

Process Memoir 7: (Vol. 1)
“and then we hit the boundary where the sun’s wind ceased.” (World Premiere)
Choreographic Direction/Performer: Johnnie Cruise Mercer
as part of Petronio Punk Picks and Other Delights at La Mama.
Photo by Julie Lemberger.

Act 1 of each show was generously devoted to the work of Johnnie Cruise Mercer of TheREDprojectNYC. Petronio not only appreciates his post-modern influences with his notable Bloodlines initiative, but  also, quite remarkably, supports and encourages the voices of contemporary movement’s future in his Bloodlines(future) programming. Mercer, a special presence on stage and a promising part of the (future) program, conducted moving meditations based on the Four Horsemen of Revelations, which will be developed into a larger piece soon. During this performance, the artist welcomed audience members on stage to join the exploration. Mercer’s meditative work, devoted to those who’ve died over these past two years, lent an appreciated shamanic aspect to the day’s proceedings.


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