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    2018-2019 reviews:


      Island of Misfit Toys
    Gotham bittersuite

    Stephen Petronio and Company's rebel flotsam dances reflect on island and city.


    "Island of Misfit Toys" is a New York premiere set to the music of Lou Reed. His re-imagined lyrics to Edgar Allan Poe's 1845 "The Raven" take us not only to the streets of Harlem and downtown, but to the 80's that shaped and were shaped by Petronio and his collaborators Reed, Laurie Anderson, and Cindy Sherman. Reed pumps up Poe's poem with lines about the pleasures of cocaine and whoredom. They flow from the honeyed lips of Willem Dafoe. In one of "Island's" eleven vignettes, The Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man" continues the theme. All's fair in art. The Times of London loved the "raw New York energy." Petronio's time in London infused his work with ballet and drama.

    Choreography by: Stephen Petronio.
    Dancers: Gerald Casel, Thang Dao, Elena Demianenko, Gino Grenek, Ashleigh Leite, Jimena Paz, Stephen Petronio, Shila Tirabassi, Amanda Wells.
    Music by: Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Blixa Bargeld.
    Costumes by: Tara Subkoff.
    Lighting design by: Ken Tabachnick.
    The Joyce
    175 Eighth Avenue
    March 23-28, 2004

    The dance sets out with Petronio seated in smoking jacket and facing upstage. With wise authority he leans from side to side. From his backlit iconic profile he smokes filling the stage with gothic fumes. The cigarette seems an artifact from a pre-Bloomberg city.

    Cindy Sherman's set consists of stuffed dolls and a powerful projected totemic image of dollish masks; it sometimes glows morosely when lit from below. Standing downstage in the left corner is a larger than life playpal with an empty head or a cavernous open mouth. On the right are two ravaged slumped stuffed figures. Flanked by these macabre stage hands, Petronio performers dance a balletic rag doll romp. Their height and incredible extensions spike a tantalizing mix of movement that is more tense than lyrical. The floppy bodies boogie with a polished torsion that looks surreal. Coppelia is a parody of the mechanical age and "Island" takes issue with the age of reason. Red spots on cheeks and blackened eyes evoke an absurd masquerade. They wear flannel pjs, baby dolls, or tiny sundress versions of tutus. If the doll-like, child-like dancers terse sharp movement were audible it would sound like a somewhat sinister laugh.

      Coppelia is a parody of the mechanical age and "Island" takes issue with the age of reason.
    The pastiche of song and dance is performed with Petronio's typical astute musicality. In a playful duet that looks Southeast Asian, Thang Daio and Ashleigh Leite grunt. Signs and gestures are intricately woven into the movement sequences. Silly antics are set to "I'm a little balloon" a riff on "I'm a Little Teapot." With dry wit, "Guilty" is a judgmental cluster that strikes a chord and lashes out at a moral majority.

    "Don't bury me, I'm not dead yet." rasps Reed in "Science of the Mind." "Such a perfect day/You just keep me hangin' on," is a loose formation strung out toward the open mouthed sentinel that recalls the smart Lucy or icon of social consciousness, Lisa Simpson.

    The program opened with the 2002 "Broken Man" to piano music by Blixa Bargeld — a solo for Petronio. With anguished angular movements and energetic writhing, he gesticulates in a jacket that is only strapped on to his body; it swings wildly with his gestures.

    "City of Twist" is Petronio's 9/11 elegy. Venetian blinds and fire escapes evoke bedroom scenes of half dressed apartment dwellers in black glittery negligees and briefs. Sexy bare legs in corkscrew turns follow the warble of Laurie Anderson's violin. Contrapuntal patterns are slow on the uptake and then wind up to a jazzy syncopation. Two moons strangely appear in this starlit fantasy.

    In a rush of color a dejected pair sits on a blue and silver Alber's-like square on the floor. In a mystical sexual end to a seemingly random romp, the sky reddens to the contorted bends of Petronio and Jimena Paz.

    Ashleigh Leite is an angel of death in a white costume with quivering fringes and fingers. The city scene behind her recalls the view looking down the Avenue of the Americas. The central section is blurred as if moving. Falling? Intermittent strobes strike unmistakably reminding. In Petronio's "City of Twist" the movement seems to ask "Why?" The dance is understated, abstract and unsettling — a strong brew after several year's distance. Next to its powerful imagery, the complex "Island of Misfit Toys" is a post-apocalypse of lingering unrest.

    APRIL 5, 2004

    Reader comments on Island of Misfit Toys:

  • Toy Message   from Jackson Sherwood, Apr 17, 2004

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