Curtain Up

March 22, 2009

Sometimes I think of choreographers
as natural elements. Twyla Tharp is water. Trisha Brown is a cloud; José Limón is earth; so is Ronald K. Brown. Martha Graham is rock—or blood. Merce Cunningham is glass (I know, glass is not an element, but hang with me here); Balanchine is glass, too. Forsythe is entangled roots of a tree.


Stephen Petronio has taken Trisha Brown’s cloud, thickened it with Twyla’s fluid, clarified it with glass, and twisted it with tree roots. But he’s developed his own unique Petronionian vocabulary, whether for his outrageous gender-benders, heartfelt soliloquies, or beautiful pieces like Lareigne. Valerie Gladstone captures this unique mix in her story “Petronio in Bloom,” on the occasion of his company’s 25th anniversary.


Stephen and I are both Trisha Brown alumni—he joined the company a year after I left—so we share a movement aesthetic. This sense of artistic familiarity made the cover shoot extra fun for me (see photos at right).

When you see a finished work
of choreography, you can’t know what struggles the choreographer and dancers have been through. But I’m willing to wager that choreographer’s block is more common than most dancemakers would let on. We can’t all come to the studio and effortlessly spin out gorgeous movement and patterns the way Balanchine did. Inevitably there are times when you get stuck and possibly even derailed. Mature choreographers take it in stride—or at least are no longer surprised by it. In “Out of Ideas?” read what five experienced choreographers say about those scary moments. And you don’t have to be a choreographer to appreciate the profound or funny insights these dance artists have. Their answers can be applied to life as well as to dance.

Our back-page “Why I Dance”
this month is a pretty fabulous piece of writing by Sascha Radetsky, the American Ballet Theatre soloist who recently decamped for Dutch National Ballet. He clearly does not subscribe to the theory of fate in dance. He admits he’s not a “born dancer,” but has constructed his career out of love and curiosity. With impish wit and a gritty eloquence, he explains why he considers dance “a pretty nice gig.”