The Stephen Petronio Company Delivers a Riveting Performance

Gina Mantica '16

Assistant Arts Editor

The Stephen Petronio Company performed at the UMass Fine Arts Center Concert Hall on March 16, and the dance show was truly riveting. Petronio, a Hampshire College graduate, captivated the audience in each part of his show—both “Big Daddy” and “Locomotor/Non Locomotor” were enrapturing stories as well as highly technical pieces. Petronio is truly a genius because he is able to brilliantly tell a story through his usage of an incredibly strong yet graceful movement repertoire.

Petronio based “Big Daddy” off the story of his father. The piece was narrated by Petronio himself reading excerpts from his memoir “Confessions of a Motion Addict.” The piece began with Petronio dressed in a suit, introducing his concept while simultaneously repeating specific movements. With each new movement that Petronio added to his phrase, he also added another word to the sentence that he was forming. The final sentence that Petronio articulated highlighted the idea that his father was, like his movement phrase, a summation and culmination of many things. This opening was captivating, and the connection that Petronio made between his movement and his father was unexpected and fascinating. Set against his narration was a slight humming sound, which had an eerie impact on the story Petronio told about his father and emphasized the negative aspects of his tale much more than any positive aspects.

During most of his narration, Petronio stood at a podium in the downstage left corner of the stage. When other dancers came onstage to move, they remained more or less center stage. This unusual use of space was intriguing. The dancers seemed to eat up space during their movements, extending the entire length of their bodies through their lines and completing their movements in a beautiful, elongated fashion.

The energy of the dancers’ movements varied throughout the piece, but their movements corresponded well with the narrative. When Petronio discussed the gentler side of his father, who he loved and looked up to, the dancers moved in a fluid and graceful manner. Later, when Petronio discussed his father’s death, their movements seemed jumpy, and they appeared to toss themselves around the stage in a frantic manner. This ability of the dancers to completely alter their remarkable combination of narration and improvisational movement that left the audience wanting more.

“Locomotor/Non Locomotor” was a dazzling piece that revolved around the concepts of energy and space, while incorporating the dichotomy of moving both forwards and backwards. The piece began with pairs of dancers traveling in circular patterns across the stage with backwards walking and jumping movements. These expansive, circular patterns on and off the stage dominated much of “Locomotor/Non Locomotor.” Even when the dancers were not traveling in circles, they ate up the entirety of the stage, moving through the space with impressive force.

Petronio’s choreography also allowed for the dancers to display their strength and technical prowess. There was a plethora of perfectly turned out passés combined with numerous beats in rapid succession that stressed the muscle strength and control of the Stephen Petronio Company dancers.

My favorite parts of this piece were the coupled duets that occurred about halfway through. The duets were a strikingly unexpected combination: two males partnered each other opposite two females performing similar movement sequences. The energy that flowed through the partners seemingly illuminated the space and drew the audience into their piece.

The music also wonderfully captured the strong energy Petronio worked to convey. The music was an eclectic combination of bells, drums and other interesting sounds. My other favorite point in the piece was when the downbeat kicked in, and the movement really started to pick up in momentum and agility. This combination of swift movements and heavy sounding music highlighted the theme of energy moving through space. “Locomotor/Non Locomotor” excellently conveyed the importance of energy in movement through space and kept the audience thoroughly captivated the entire time.