A punk aesthetic creeps through the work of Stephen Petronio. A modern dancer who came late to the game and its technical training, he has frequently challenged viewers with the unpretty: counterintuitive, brisk, repetitive movement, set to music—by Diamanda Galás, Wire, Lou Reed—that ranges from noisy to brooding. Last spring Portland saw his Underland, in which Australia's Sydney Dance Company, artfully draped in Imitation of Christ bits, slunk and crashed to countryman Nick Cave in a bleak, post-9/11 landscape.
This spring, Petronio brings us a lighter program, but only just. It includes "The Rite Part," an excerpt from his 1992 piece Full Half Wrong and an ambitious undertaking in so many ways. It's propelled by Stravinsky's violently percussive Rite of Spring, which famously provoked a riot when the Ballets Russes debuted it in 1913. Since then it has become, Petronio says, "a monolith of modernism; cartoonish, in a way." As a retort to its invocation of virgin sacrifice, he focused on strong, sensual movement for the company's women, addressing what he called the sexual politics of the body (and advancing his own political evolution as a gay man in the process). "My body is my canvas," he says, "and my canvas has been restrained politically."
Contrast this with his two sunnier-sounding new works, "Bud Suite" and "Bloom," in which Rufus Wainwright music is sung live by the Pacific Youth Choir. Whereas "Rite" is taut and angular, by Petronio's reckoning, these are more lyrical and earnest. What they all have in common are elements of love, spring and awakening. Bloom, in particular, is about "the transformation of innocence to something else," transported by Walt Whitman's and Emily Dickinson's poetry and an original Wainwright composition. "It's actually kind of insidious, but it sounds so sweet you don't notice it," he says. They mark a departure for the choreographer, but it's not necessarily permanent. Petronio typically finds himself drawn to his collaborators by what he calls the brute force of their vision. "My approach is more intuitive than rational," he says. "I go where my heart is, where I can't stay away."
790-2787. 7:30 pm Wednesday, March 5. $20-$50.