Dallas — In contrast to the dreary rain outside Moody Performance Hall on Oct. 19, the Stephen Petronio Company brought a vivacious energy into the theater. Through a combination of old treasures and newer works, the movers presented technical proficiency, professionalism, and thoughtful movement ideas to an eager audience.
A dark stage slowly brightened to reveal Ernesto Brenton and Mac Twining pushing and pulling one another’s limbs in a lazy fashion. “bud,” a duet from the larger Bud Suite, centered on themes of desire, touch, and gender. Petronio’s choreography featured intimate brushes, indifferent partnering, and thrusting leaps as the two engaged in a back and forth pattern. For this duet, the beauty really did lie in the details. Limp wrists atop forceful, slicing arms offered an opposing energy quality, while a dancer’s grazing fingers on his partner’s neck provided just enough intimacy for the otherwise awkward couple. With this shorter work, it is almost easy to miss these jewels by focusing on the airy jumps or lack-luster dynamic of the movers.
Hardness 10 invited a starker scene to the theater. Low-hanging, bare lighting shined down on seven dancers in black and gold bodysuits. They began with simple, pedestrian walks in geometric spatial patterns—giving the audience a moment to take in the bold, clustered words written on their costumes. Phrases like “She says, he says,” “Working woman,” “Look don’t touch,” and “Read my hips!,” added depth to the basic movements by alluding to themes of feminism, the #MeToo Movement, and social justice. But before one could read through a dancer’s body art, the movers would suddenly burst through the air with spastic jumps and fluid spirals. Woven between these energized steps were the repeated walking patterns of dancers marching on and off stage. Groups and solos emerged from these pathways and offered directional surprises—leaving the rigidity of such walks to fall and recover—only to return to the group as if their movement was simply a blip in time. Hardness 10 succeeds in blending of Petronio’s style with Yvonne Rainer inspired simplicity.
In another reference to the founders of postmodern dance, Excerpt from Goldberg Variations displayed Nicolas Sciscione’s version of Steve Paxton’s original choreography. After painting his face with white cream, Sciscione undulated his body with quick breaks of his joints and loose upper body movements. This improvisational solo highlighted a lightness in his repetitive bounces, prances, and arm flicks. His swivels to the ground maintained an airy quality that continued into his slippery turns and fluid hips circles. Brief, yet cutting moments of neck twists and spinal spasms broke through the sprightly tone of the work for an added layer of contrast.
Concluding the program, Untitled Touch explored the possibilities of physicality and relationship. Accompanied by an ethereal score from Son Lux, the company members engaged in sensual curiosity—playing with the negative space around their bodies. Facing one another, they began by mirroring each other and gesturing lightly in pantomime form. Breaking from this hesitant opening, the group fell into a series of duets—each unique in quality and content. Where the men embodied virtuosity, the female duets captured a more tender approach with lengthy extensions and caressing arms. Continuous investigation of body parts left little room for stillness, causing an overwhelming sense of motion. This feeling was heightened by the monotonous, ambient notes in the music. However, these moments also contained dashes of fascinating hand gestures. In fact, the piece held a myriad of hand imagery—from the claps, holds, and grabs of the dancers’ fingers to the actual hands printed on their white shirts.
Stephen Petronio’s recent fascination with the historical greats of postmodern dance permeated the evening’s program. Even in his newer works like Hardness 10 and Untitled Touch, references to the experimental themes of Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, and Steve Paxton mixed beautifully with his own commitment to ingenuity and artistry.