Petronio's brash dance separates fans from onlookers

January 18, 1995|By J.L. Conklin | J.L. Conklin,Special to The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The intelligent and brash choreography of New York-based Stephen Petronio is not for the faint of heart. You either love it or hate it, but you can't ignore it.

At the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater last weekend, Mr. Petronio gave a sampling of his choreography and his strong dancers in "The King is Dead," "MiddleSex Gorge," "Full Half Wrong" and a new solo performed by Mr. Petronio, "No. 3."

"MiddleSex Gorge," danced to the punk rock music of Wire, separated the fans from the idly curious. The loud and raucous music underlined the dance's "in your face" energy that was decidedly provocative. If the music were not enough to push you to the edge, the costumes by H. Petal -- women in black outfits similar to 1930s bathing suits, men in reversed corsets that exposed bare buttocks -- certainly let you know you weren't in Kansas any more.

The work was so on the edge of the decadent/urban angst genre, at times it seemed a parody. Yet, there was undeniable intelligence directing the dancers through their vibrating, thrusting movements. Mr. Petronio peppers his works with classical technique. Snippets reminiscent of Nijinsky's "Afternoon of a Faun" surfaced near the end of the first section.

"The King Is Dead" illustrated Mr. Petronio's offbeat black humor and his extensive movement vocabulary. Prefaced by an evocative, fluid solo by the choreographer, as Elvis Presley crooned "Love Me Tender," the dance blossomed into a full company work to Ravel's "Bolero." The company's costumes, by Manolo, were reminiscent of mummy wraps and lent a macabre, creepy tone to the dance.

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