The Stephen Petronio Company is in fine form as it wraps up its 30th anniversary season this week at The Joyce Theatre. A double-bill within a double-bill of sorts, this program is a veritable set of Russian dolls, negotiating in multiple dualities as the evening unfolds.

Nicholas Sciscione and Melissa Toogood in Merce Cunningham's <i>Rainforest</i> © Yi-Chun Wu
Nicholas Sciscione and Melissa Toogood in Merce Cunningham's Rainforest
© Yi-Chun Wu

A new piece – part extant repertory, part world première – is a two-act work beginning with Locomotor, an exuberantly athletic dance set to the thundering score by the hip-hop master producer Clams Casino. As I observe the finely layered and chopped-up sections of hurtling forward and backward movement, Locomotor in its core feels like a sort of an homage to the early days of contemporary dance. There is something in both the costuming and the movement quality that strikes me as Cunningham-esque (keep this in mind as you read on). While the composition and editing are quite modern, there is classical rigor in the form, to which Mr. Casino’s bassy soundscape provides a nice counterpoint. Both violent and evocative, equal parts nostalgia and destruction, the score is rife with recognizable, but electronically altered sounds, such as a dissonant toy piano and glitchy church bells. The sum total of all these elements is often quite compelling, resulting in a cyber-ballet of sorts.

Next up on the program is Locomotor’s companion piece – and the only previously unseen choreography of the evening – titled Non Locomotor. Much shorter and tighter, this work feels rather underwhelming in the wake of its predecessor. While Locomotor reads as a throwback to the then-new choreographic tendencies of the 1970’s, Non Locomotor definitely registers as “here and now”. Much like the first piece, this work is essentially a movement study, though it is evident that the intention here is to take an approach that is more intimate (an inward look, if you will,) towards bodies in motion, and also a more contemporary one (with vague references to urban forms such as vogueing, for instance). Adjusted to the 2015 attention span both in affect and duration, Non Locomotor somehow ends up feeling more like an afterthought.

Finally, Petronio’s company unveiled the first endeavor in their planned five-year Bloodlines project – an homage to the forebearers of American contemporary dance, consisting of accurate recreations of these choreographers’ iconic works. On this occasion, the company presented Merce Cunningham’s 1968 piece Rainforest.

Davalois Fearon and Gino Grenek in Merce Cunningham's <i>Rainforest</i> © Yi-Chun Wu
Davalois Fearon and Gino Grenek in Merce Cunningham's Rainforest
© Yi-Chun Wu
Set on Petronio’s agile dancers by stagers from the Cunningham Trust, the characteristically minimalist work reads like a fairy tale of competing lovers, boiled down to its essence, and presented against the backdrop of fragile, silver floating cushions – designed by the likes of Andy Warhol. I hate to say it, but honestly, in spite of the dancer’s best efforts, and admittedly rigorous, committed work, "Warhol’s clouds” simply stole the show. Starting in a relatively tame composition, stationed against the rear stage wall at various heights, these floating dervishes soon start invading the auditorium, both menacingly and hypnotically, some ascending up high and rustling against the ceiling grid, others hurtling towards the audience members, frequently demanding some playful interaction with the spectators. The overall effect was mesmerizing – but, arguably, perhaps not in the way in which the company had intended.

***11