After a quarter-century, Stephen Petronio Company offers a retrospective of its sexy, inventive dance works. | Dance | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

After a quarter-century, Stephen Petronio Company offers a retrospective of its sexy, inventive dance works.

click to enlarge Stephen Petronio Company performs "MiddleSexGorge." - PHOTO COURTESY OF YIN-CHU WU
Photo courtesy of Yin-Chu Wu
Stephen Petronio Company performs "MiddleSexGorge."

In 2009, Justin Timberlake told us he was "bringing sexy back." Had he seen the works of New York choreographer Stephen Petronio, he'd have known sexy never really left.

Petronio, a former Trisha Brown Company member, formed the Stephen Petronio Company in 1984, and began developing a unique and sexually charged movement style, one that over the years has enthralled audiences worldwide and spawned many imitators.

The company's Jan. 22 performance at the Byham Theater, presented by the Pittsburgh Dance Council, is a retrospective celebrating the Petronio style. It features five works spanning the past quarter-century, including Petronio's most recent piece, 2010's "Ghostown." 

Petronio himself will take the stage first in his 1986 solo work "#3," set to a score by Saturday Night Live musical director/saxophonist Lenny Pickett.

Known almost as much for his dancers' onstage attire as for his idiosyncratic movement language, Petronio says he prefers working with fashion designers rather than costumers.

"They cut and fashion fabric the way I cut and fashion movement," says Petronio, by phone from New York. 

Perhaps the most recognizable of those collaborations was with designer H. Petal on the 25-minute signature work "MiddleSexGorge" (1990). Petronio describes the work as "dealing with issues of power, control and sexuality." Petal's look for the piece played with gender roles by putting the male dancers in corsets. 

The solo work "Love Me Tender" (1993), set to the Elvis Presley song, follows. Then comes 2007's "Foreign Import," a piece about a stalker, made for the Scottish Ballet and set to an acoustic version of Radiohead's song "Creep." 

The program will close with the aforementioned "Ghostown," set to music by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood. 

"For 25 years I fought to build the Petronio style and I thought, 'Now what do I do?'" says Petronio. "I thought it would be interesting to create something that seemed like it was there but was no longer there, and that led me to the idea of a ghost town."

Petronio says he built into the 18-minute dance everyday gestures like wiping one's nose or scratching an ear, and then made those movements more virtuosic. Petronio sees these gestures as "movement ghosts" -- things that seem to be there but aren't because we often are unaware we are doing them. 


Stephen Petronio Company 8 p.m. Sat., Jan. 22. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $19-45. 412-456-6666 or

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