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They've Got Kick

Stephen Petronio Company

by Becca Hirschman

February 9, 2007 -- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, CA

Do you ever wake up and think, “Hey, I have an urge for some New York-style modern dance today!“? Funny enough, I did so just last week, and what timing with Friday’s return of the Stephen Petronio Company, presented by San Francisco Performances at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. This evening was a night filled with dance --SF Ballet and Reggie Wilson next door presented by YBCA -- and I’m glad I was able to see the Stephen Petronio Company’s return to the city by the bay. 

The program opened with what happened to be the shortest yet potentially the most fulfilling work, Petronio’s 2006 “Bud Suite,” set to the intelligent music and lyrics of Rufus Wainwright. Funky, edgy, and clever, “Bud Suite” explores the poignancy of youth and the multitude of expectations throughout life without every feeling like a downer. The dancers, partially in suits or white button down shirts with tattered backs and short red shorts (with tulle poofs on the rears at one point for the women), moved with incredible ease yet underlying power: Little piques here, a large grand battement originating from the pelvis there. The movement grew, but was not too big for its britches as my grandmother would say, and I enjoyed the understated yet compelling style.

“Bud Suite” acted as a prelude to “BLOOM,” also set to the music of Wainwright  and utilizing lyrics from Latin Mass as well as the poetry of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson. While Wainwright was prerecorded, additional live accompaniment was also provided by the sweet and melodious sounds of the San Francisco Girls Chorus conducted by Susan McMane. The company’s men wore Rachel Roy’s cream/grey colored vests and shorts, and provided a more grounded contrast to the women, who were dressed in her muted blue/grey dresses resembling tulips blowing in the wind (and some “blooming“ later on into golden shimmer-like baby doll dresses). As the chorus, the music, and the dancers continued to soar, I crept to the edge of my seat, the company moving so fluidly on stage through this harmonious dance that I didn‘t want it to end.

Excerpted from Petronio‘s 1992 “Full Half Wrong, “The Rite Part,” set to Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and music by Mitchell Lager, is based on Nijinsky’s “Le sacre de printemps.” The company, adorned in sheer black bodysuits clad in fabric scraps, seemed transformed from earlier. No longer were they happy and carefree; instead, the dancers moved with steadfast purpose, some clear end in sight. Shila Tirabassi, as the woman dancing herself to death, jumped, kicked, and paused with sexual abandon, and closing the program, “The Rite Part” drove the evening home with seductive yet fierce imagery.

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