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.