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There's no stopping Petronio's troupe

The New York company keeps up an impressively furious attack no matter what the music is doing.

February 05, 2007|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

Stephen Petronio's eight-member New York-based company looked superbly fit and virtuosic in the UCLA Live series Friday in Royce Hall. The dancers' whirlwind arms and legs shot out in every possible direction at maximum velocity. Challenges regarding balance, propulsion and stamina were all flawlessly vanquished, and grace-under-pressure emerged as the prevailing company style.

But dancing represented only one component in Petronio's collaborative program -- and not often the most compelling or memorable. That's because the distinctive music for each work varied in feeling, density, tempo, texture -- but the choreography remained a restless rush, so generalized, so one-size-fits-all, that the dancers seemed to function primarily as human pinwheels. And as their relentless dazzle began to pall, attention shifted elsewhere.

You could argue that Petronio was born to choreograph Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring," since its original action plan involved a woman forced to dance herself to death. Sure enough, the excerpt from his "Full Half Wrong" (1992, with Stravinsky interrupted by a collage of music and speech by Mitchell Lager) featured a fabulously convulsive final solo for Shila Tirabassi but also more attention to musical mood shifts and rhythms than the rest of the program offered.

In "Bud Suite" and "Bloom" from 2006, Rufus Wainwright's recorded ballads pretty much overwhelmed Petronio's limited expressive resources, exploring the junctures between primary emotions ("This Love Affair"), finding a personal and contemporary point of entry to the Latin Mass ("Lux Aeterna") and celebrating the vigor of classic American poetry (Emily Dickinson's "Hope Is the Thing With Feathers").

All evening long, Petronio provided a number of adroit same-sex duets, but the best was his first: buddies (or buds) Michael Badger and Gino Grenek deftly, effortlessly conquering every sort of high-speed partnering hazard as if they were engaged in some impromptu physical banter.

If the dancing had no use for slowness or stillness but capitalized on fast, fragmentary bursts of motion ornamented by occasional glints of feeling, the costuming artfully reflected this priority in the shredded street wear worn in "Bud" (designed by Tara Subkoff/Imitation of Christ and H. Petal), and the scraps of color attached to distressed black leotards in "Full Half Wrong" (credited to Manolo). Rachel Roy, however, gave the company more lyrical attire in "Bloom." The lighting designs by Ken Tabachnick created shifting color environments and a welcome sense of visual variety.

The Paulist Choristers of California added a live supplement to the "Bloom" recordings, enhancing their interest and dominance.

Petronio himself made an unscheduled appearance Friday, stopping the work-in-progress solo "For Today I Am a Boy" because of a sound problem and asking that it start over. Dancer Davalois Fearon looked grateful for the interruption.

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