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      Amanda Wells in Petronio 2009
      Photo by Quinn Batson
      Amanda Wells
    Out at Sea in Stormy Weather

    Stephen Petronio Company faces the future on its 25th Anniversary


    An ancient mariner with 20th-century sunglasses and hip waders goes over and over lines and movement with his first mate, riffing here and there with the audience while setting up his strange ship, which may just be stranded at sea. Is Stephen Petronio giving us a metaphor for surviving through rough times or just searching for shore?

    PETRONIO 2009
    Choreography by: Stephen Petronio.
    Music by: Nico Muhly, with Seth Baer, Mike Clayville, Logan Coale, Nadia Sirota and Alex Sopp.
    Costumes by: Cindy Sherman (Stephen Petronio sea captain costume).
    Choir: Young People's Chorus of NY City.
    Joyce Theater
    April 28-May 3, 2009

    One thing not lost is Petronio's excellent choice of music, this time collaboratng with Nico Muhly, who sits onstage at piano and laptop, directing a mini-orchestra that sits on a mini-loft across the back wall from him. And there are more than enough moments of solo and duet solidity to keep things from unraveling. The first is Amanda Wells' mysterious caped character, who grabs and holds our attention with a sort of commanding vamp, unhurried and fluid as she stalks the stage in thick-striped tights and stops here and there to pose. The thick stripes, blue and white, give a vaguely nautical, prison ship feel that is oddly dressed up with long dark waistcoats in this opening segment.

    The next section loses its stripes and some of its way but ends nicely with a sultry trio by Davalois Fearon, Shila Tirabassi and Mandy Kirschner. Light blue worksuits on men and grey and black dresses for the trio drab down the wardrobe here but can't suppress the biggest and best new company member, Barrington Hinds, who still needs to grow into his feet a bit but already has the easy power and speed of the best of Petronio's dancers. Hinds moves more cleanly than dancers a head shorter than he is, making huge movements look effortless, pretty unusual for someone near six feet tall. Two duets in this section, one by Hinds and Fearon and the other by newcomer Tara Lorenzen with Julian De Leon, also stand out.

    consummate pros (L-R) Nico Muhly, Gino Grenek, Shila Tirabassi in Petronio 2009
    Photo by Quinn Batson
    consummate pros (L-R) Nico Muhly, Gino Grenek, Shila Tirabassi

    Probably the treat of the evening, though, is a guest appearance by Petronio veteran Gino Grenek, who approaches the slashing speed and soft landings of the male Petronio dancer archetype, Stephen Petronio himself. Another jawdropper in the show is the duet between Hinds and Tirabassi that devours space in every direction, with Tirabassi flying around Hinds' shoulders like a leg-slicing hulahoop.

    The fully striped end sections have much of the group hyperkinetics typical of many Petronio pieces, with everything going by so fast that no one can really stand out, though Grenek, again, does anyway. The Young People's Chorus of New York City helps end the evening with voices and hand bells in what Petronio explains is a song drawn from the liturgical text for the blessing of a bell upon installation into its tower, "an invocation of sort, a beacon in search of a state of calm and hope," as Petronio puts it.

    Though the live music is beautifully rich and varied and some dancing and dancers stand out, nothing in this 25th Anniversary season grabbed vital body parts and squeezed hard, like several recent seasons have. I Drink the Air Before Me, titled from a line in Shakespeare's Tempest, does seem apt in the midst of our current existential storm, and feels like a good metaphor to take the Stephen Petronio Company through inevitably rough weather into the future.

    MAY 5, 2009

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