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By Elaine Stuart
The Petronio dancer brings tough and tender together.
Growing up in New York City, Jaqlin Medlock attended many performances at the Joyce and dreamed of dancing on that stage. “It’s a landmark theater for New York—like if you perform at the Joyce, you’ve made it!” she says. So when she found herself there last March, in her first season with the Stephen Petronio Company, she could hardly contain her excitement.
Many audience members felt a similar rush watching this petite newcomer perform. In a program filled with firsts—Petronio’s interpretation of a 1970 Steve Paxton solo, New York City Ballet principal Wendy Whelan’s appearance as a guest artist, and the world premiere of the choreographer’s latest work, The Architecture of Loss—Medlock’s tough yet tender debut in the revival City of Twist made a strong impression.
“I loved the part I had,” she says. “I could be sassy and have a really good time with it. I didn’t feel like I was performing. I felt like I was myself.”
Despite her long lines and clean technique, it’s Medlock’s presence that sets her apart. Petronio noticed it in her audition (see “Through Petronio’s Eyes,” Feb. 2012). “She has a lot of natural personality and a sense of style with everything she does—the way she talks, the way she walks, and the way she dances,” he says.
Medlock, 27, can’t remember exactly when she started dancing, only that she was too young for the local studio. “So I had Saturday morning ‘ballet class’ in the living room,” she says. “My dad would put on Van Halen and Tina Turner and let me dance.” She began training seriously around age 12 while dancing in a youth company in Fairfield, Connecticut, under the direction of Angela D’Valda and Steve Sirico. There she studied ballet with Franco DeVita, now principal of American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. “He was definitely on my case,” she says. “He put me into professional mode.”
After high school, Medlock returned to New York City to attend Marymount Manhattan College. She graduated in 2007 with a dance major and photography minor. She spent two years with Steps Repertory Ensemble, the resident company of Steps on Broadway, and toured to South Africa as part of the Global Arts Initiative. At the same time she launched a photography business and took up tango. After freelancing for Bradley Shelver Contemporary Dance Theater, Bennyroyce Dance Productions, and other troupes, she was looking for a full-time position when a friend suggested she audition for Petronio.
She wasn’t convinced at first. “I’ve always loved the company, but I had it in my head I wouldn’t be a good fit,” she says. She had just taken a Petronio workshop at Steps, though, and decided to audition for fun. To her surprise she was hired—and given a month to learn Underland, the hour-long piece the company toured last fall.
Petronio worked with Medlock to mold her classical foundation to his slippery movement style—specifically to achieve the softness at the hip joint it demands. “My work’s a language and it takes a while to learn to speak it fluently,” he says. “Her body eventually just let go, and it was beautiful to watch that.” She found learning the movement challenging but rewarding. “My body worked so hard to adjust that sweat would seep into the battery of my hearing aids,” says Medlock, who has been hard of hearing all her life. “The batteries would die on a daily basis.”
Her next test as a newbie company member was being part of the creation of The Architecture of Loss. In typical Petronio fashion, it was a group effort. “The way it gets put together is kind of a free-for-all,” Medlock says. “That was shocking for me—having that kind of freedom and artistic collaboration.”
Medlock still can’t quite grasp that she’s made it by her own benchmark. But having achieved one goal, she’s quickly decided on the next. “I’d love to be one of those people who, when we’re creating new work, Stephen goes, ‘Yeah, do it like her!’ ” she says. “That comes with mastering the style. I know I have work to do, which means growing as an artist. And that’s all I can ask for really.”
Elaine Stuart is a New York City writer.
Medlock auditioned for Petronio for fun. Photo courtesy Medlock.