Review: Stephen Petronio Company in Beauty and the Brut, BLOOM, This is the Story of a Girl in a World at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre

Performance: 7 & 8 Oct 08
Reviewed by Mary Kate Connolly - Friday 10 October 2008

Stephen Petronio Company, Photo: Sarah Silver

Stephen Petronio’s Beauty and the Brut began with swimmers. The sound of waves crashing on a shore set the scene for a drawling voiceover of a girl recounting a seduction which began ‘So I was at the beach…’. The ensuing seduction seemed not only an enactment of the speech which echoed lazily overhead, but more, an embodiment of the seductive power of movement itself. There is something both invigorating and humbling in regarding the skill, drive and arrow-sharp line of Petronio’s lithe dancers. From the opening of Beauty and the Brut, one was held under their spell and that of the sexy, suggestive and fierce choreography. The movement blended classical lines with a contemporary, skewed aesthetic; diving arabesques and pirouettes which seemed combative in their force, combined with pelvic thrusts and swirling partner work. And all the while in the background, the banal rendering of a hazy beachside tryst played out, in stark contrast to the frenzied motor of the dancers, until the sound of the beach took over once again to draw the piece to a close.

*Bloom*, in contrast was opened by a choir of school students (formed from Sydenham School and London’s Centre for Young Musicians), humming in spine tingling harmony on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, before proceeding slowly through the auditorium to take up their place among the audience seats. Thus began a beautiful counterpoint between dance and song. Choreographed in 2006, the soundtrack featured music by Rufus Wainwright with lyrics taken from the Latin Mass and the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. At climactic moments, the choir would rise once again to lend harmony and depth to the recorded score. Once again the choreography featuring the full company was turbulent, with bodies hurled and guided by circular patterns, limbs undulating and darting out like spears from the torso. There were also moments of pause among the speed, as when the lights dimmed, silhouetting the dancers and rendering the invisible kinaesthetic pathways which their bodies forged, almost visible in the blurry gloom.

The second half of the programme was *This is the Story of a Girl in a World*, a catalogue of four eclectic pieces. Throughout these offerings, signature elements of Petronio’s sleek style and presentation were in evidence. Costumes were by turns eccentric and suggestive, such as the over sized pop-art style t-shirts designed by Michael Anger, for the trio Candy Says. After the theatrical posturing of this idiosyncratic piece, two remaining dancers, Michael Badger and Elena Demyanenko stripped unceremoniously to black underwear to commence the duet Snap. Shouting neurotically ‘I don’t feel well’, they embarked upon a risqué retelling of ‘the first time I [they] did this dance…’.What dance exactly they were referring to was hinted at humorously in the way they coyly grasped their crotches, mimicked dragging heavily on a cigarette and wiggled their hips. Whilst Snap formed a comical moment in the selection, Davalois Fearon’s solo For Today I am a Boy was a dance of pure poise, ending poignantly with Fearon meandering upstage, her back to the audience, into the fading light.

Finally the crescendo of Girl in a World, danced by the whole company, brought the relentless velocity of the evening to a close. Energy finally spent, bodies were piled up and writhing, silhouetted in orange, dusky light.

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