Stormy Weather

4.27.2009

By Justin Ravitz

To mark the 25th anniversary of his self-titled dance company, Stephen Petronio called on Dorothy. 'Like every good gay boy, The Wizard of Oz was my first storm,' the venerable dancer-choreographer says, explaining the spark for I Drink the Air Before Me, his abstract paean to the chaos and emotional force of meteorological phenomena. Borrowing a line from Shakespeare's The Tempest, the piece features 12 dancers re-creating that 'holy spiral' often seen on Sam Champion's storm-watch screens during hurricane season -- 'but this is not my response to Katrina,' Petronio clarifies. His second squall, magical if not literally transporting, was Tropical Storm Carla, which hit his hometown of Nutley, N.J., in 1956. 'I remember being on the street with my mother -- garbage can in one hand, flying, me in the other. Fun!'

Scoring the thunder, lightning, and wind is avant-garde composer Nico Muhly, whose mash-up of classical arrangements and pop sensibility shoved Petronio out of his comfort zone. Meanwhile, after several years offstage, Petronio will be joining his ensemble to perform in a top-secret costume designed by legendary shape-shifter and photographer Cindy Sherman. He isn't worried about the other timely, albeit accidental, metaphor for destructive forces beyond our control: the economy. 'Dancers make things out of nothing and then disappear,' Petronio says. 'We're good at that.'

I Drink the Air Before Me is playing April 28'May 3 at the Joyce Theater in New York City.

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