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Flash Review 1, 10-19:
Strange Dance Attractions
Petronio's Dance Theory
By Ben Munisteri
Copyright 2000 Ben Munisteri
In chaos theory, the
term "Strange Attractors" describes focal points that exist in seemingly
chaotic fields. In parts of his new, three-part, evening-length
dance of the same name (premiering at the Joyce Theater this week,
through Sunday), I can see Stephen Petronio's inspiration in some
of the ways the dancers move with each other, in and out of repeating
dance phrases. Dressed in black, they make me think of subatomic
particles dancing a design that is both random and fixed. But in
a program note, Petronio asks, "How does one chart the magnetic
pull that draws and repels two people?" He explains that the concept
of Strange Attractors appeals to him both architecturally and as
a metaphor for the "unpredictable ways people interact."
As one who usually finds
predictability in the ways people interact, however, I wonder at
Petronio's placement of the behavior of two human hearts in the
context of chaos theory -- what does that say about his views on
relationships? (I fantasize that I'd know only after a date with
him.) After a brief, opening Prelude, Part I -- which reminds me
of Cunningham-like executions of dance phrases in various casts,
counterpoints, and stage positions -- doesn't have much in the way
of people interacting. The accompanying music score by Michael Nyman
is a like a Streisand vocal -- full of both stridency and pathos.
But I don't see the dancers dancing to it -- either in rhythm, musicality,
or spirit -- or much with each other. (It reminded me of the times
I have watched dance on video, turned down the volume, and put different
music on the CD player. I marvel at the chance timings of music
and movement, but the dancers on screen can't hear the music on
the stereo.) Despite the performers' beautiful technique, the movements
were so repetitious as to be tough to watch after a while. One clear
exception to this section's detached flavor was a brief solo for
Malcolm Low, who seemed to merge the knife-like Petronio aggression
and chill with his own open heart. A fabulous moment.
The final section of
"Strange Attractors," Part II, is my favorite. If the preceding
section was about the science of a strange attractor, perhaps this
last section was a LITTLE bit more about its soul. It is made of
that potent Petronio stuff that I first saw in "MiddleSex Gorge"
and "Half Wrong Plus Laytext." It is an inexplicable synergy comprised
of driving music (by UNKLE), slashing limbs, glimpses of lovely
line, and all those powerful pairs of feet -- speedy and pointing
with startling might. At one point, the visceral dynamic gave way
to an adagio of crumbling bodies and sensuous gesture. Inventive
duets followed resolute floor solos. His spatial patterns are clearly
deliberate but hard to discern and do not reward with the spirograph
kind of "ooh and "aahh" moments when we might grasp obvious designs.
Here Petronio's vocabulary -- for me usually a clear mix of Trisha
Brown and Michael Clarke -- adds a boxing motif. During this section,
Anish Kapoor's two discs glowed metallic blue above the dancers
-- their shape ambivalently either convex or concave. And Ken Tabachnick's
inspired lighting design gave strange meaning to some of the dancers'
more abstract tasks. In all, a satisfying and effective complement
Perhaps the reason I
found Part II fulfilling is because it is when the dancers seemed
most individual and human to me -- and therefore more accessible.
I don't mean they were emoting or grinning or being coy. I mean
that they looked more relaxed, more intense -- truly interacting
now and looking each other in the eye. (Until this point their identities
seemed largely blank, especially among the five women, whose similar
body types blurred their individuality a bit during the first two
sections.) A lovely, strong duet for Low and Ana Gonzalez suggests
Petronio's interest in humanity as well as physics -- as his program
note promises. Still, I must admit that the dancers were most compelling
and revealing when they were bowing; their relieved, beaming faces
had dropped the studied, detached post-modern countenances, and
I smiled with them.
In addition to Petronio,
Low, and Gonzalez, the excellent dancers included Michael Badger,
Gino Grenek, Kristina Isabelle, Ashleigh Leite, Gabrielle Malone,
Jimena Paz, and Todd Williams.
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