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Stephen Petronio—the dance powerhouse and founder of Stephen Petronio Company, first male dancer at Trisha Brown Dance Company, previous recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and prized winner of fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts—has been dancing his way into the spotlight since the early 1970s. His company, founded in 1984, has toured extensively in the U.S., traveled to perform in 26 countries, has had over 40 engagements in New York City, fulfilled 21 seasons with The Joyce Theater, and has, in turn, brought a powerful movement to people that appreciate art, dance, and meaningful, storytelling.
On March 9, Petronio, his co-chairs, Alison Mazzola and Lisa Resling Halpern, and a handful of selected guests and sponsors celebrated the company’s 2016 Bloodlines Benefit Gala. For the second season of Bloodlines, a “multiyear project incorporating works by trailblazers of American postmodern dance,” the two-part gala helped honor two of the company’s supporters: Richard E. Feldman, the president of SHS Foundation, and Diane Madden, the associate director of the Trisha Brown Dance Company. The first half of the night was stationed at The Joyce Theater, where Petronio and his company presented three very personal dance ensembles. The first, Glacial Decoy (1979), was choreographed by Trisha Brown, and performed by dancers Davalois Fearon, Cori Kresge, Jaqlin Medlock, Tess Montoya, and Emily Stone. Driven by two characters, while adding in a few more along the way, the silent performance articulated the strong steering body and mind of a woman.
“Glacial Decoy presents the actions of a specific mind, a strong articulate woman—not representations of femaleness—moving through states from ordinary to sublime. There is a wholeness, a maddeningly slippery and elusive quality that is just out of grasp—the way the gestures overlap or feather into each other, split-second shifts from hot to cold to immeasurable, literal to abstract, to human action, then sneakily on to an expansive architectural form. And yet it’s decidedly female, her body and her mind that’s steering this emotional and architectural ship,” explained Petronio.
Next, we saw Big Daddy (Deluxe) (World Premiere), choreographed and narrated by Petronio himself, and performed by his company. Originally a solo from 2014, commissioned by the American Dance Festival and Doris Duke/SHS Foundations Award for New Dance, the piece was a moving performance surrounding Petronio’s relationship with his father before his untimely passing just a few years ago.
“I wanted to create a work that spoke of my father, Thomas Petronio, who passed away a few years ago while I was in the midst of writing a memoir, Confessions of a Motion Addict,” said Petronio. “Is this a dance, reading, or lecture demonstration? I’m teasing these boundaries, not fixed on its categorical label. I do know that while investigating language and motion, I’ve found a wonderful way to meditate on my father and my connection to him.”
Lastly, we indulged in MiddleSexGorge (1990)—a piece choreographed by Petronio, and performed by the company to lively music by Wire. Petronio chose this work because it was at the epicenter of his “thinking about gender control and power at the onset of a most difficult time in our collective history—the onset of the AIDS epidemic,” said Petronio. “The anger forged into my language is utilized as a call to action. This response was inspired by my participation in the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in the late 1980s. It was a practice of civil disobedience to force acknowledgement of a devastating reality in New York, particularly in a disenfranchised same-sex community. MiddleSexGorge is a very different treatise on gender, deeply informed by my generation’s shift.
With assistance from this season’s sponsors, including Howard Gilman Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, The Foundation To-Life, Howard Gilman Foundation, James E. Robison Foundation, King’s Fountain, Seventh House PR/Showroom Seven International, The Harkness Foundation for Dance, and American Express, the celebration then moved to Dream Downtown, where a buffet-style dinner eased its way into a sit-down night of mingling and celebratory toasts. Petronio was also presented with a birthday cake to celebrate his 60th birthday just a few days early. It was a ceremonious night of jubilee and fun.