As the curtain rises merely a foot, just enough to show Petronio lying on his back in a black suit downstage right, the faces of the choir, about three dozen, rise from the orchestra pit. Dance performances are sometimes so artistically stark, and the glassy vocals from the choir bring a richness, a sense of wonder, to this performance.
Back on stage, Petronio lies on his back for nearly the entire show, much like Cloud Gate's monk did in White Bird's presentation of the Taiwanese company Tuesday night, except Petronio's not getting buried in rice. The dancing in some ways isn't dissimilar from Cloud Gate's either. Petronio says he pursues "an ecstatic transcendent state through physical form," which to me sounds like director Lin Hwai-min's quest for enlightenment, but more Western and modern.
Petronio's dancers move with detached stoicism, limbs stiff and faces as if in a trance. It's not transcendent to me—one movement, set to thumping base, seems almost amphetamine-induced—but instead kind of cold. The dancers rarely partner with each other, and when they do they're emotionless. Neither do they often dance as a group. They break away in sets of two or three with snappy vignettes, but then they are still. Each appears to be doing his or her own thing, and this goes on for too long.
It's a strange juxtaposition with the choir and composer Son Lux's thoughtful score, which has heavy religious overtones. Half slave spirituals and half electronica, the score drips with interest and poetic gems from Sojourner Truth. "Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman," a recording of Lux cries, echoed by the choir. Lux, who's a favorite of both NPR and Christianity Today, inspired Petronio with the score, which Petronio expanded into depictions of death, transformation and rebirth. Most of those tableaus are subtle—dancers collapse to the ground; a man steps through two ropes; another rolls, barely clothed, on the ground like a baby. Petronio, who eventually gets up from the floor, gives himself the most obvious part: He looks up, eyes wide, and walks toward the (spot)light.
GO: The Stephen Petronio Company is at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 245-1600. 8 pm Friday-Saturday, March 7-8. $20-$30. Tickets here.