Theater archives

Word Up


Stephen Petronio’s 70-minute kinetic meditation on time, Not Garden, which opens Tuesday at the Joyce Theater, relies on word and body. In Amherst, Massachusetts, last month, much of the movement was swallowed up in the stylish staging, a problem that should be rectified in the more intimate New York venue.

Petronio and set designer Tal Yarden create a tightly bound landscape, with scrims upstage and down on which emphatic projections of words and images demand attention. A highly selective visual review of past decades plays across the stage, including names of notorious political leaders, terrorist groups, Calvin Klein, Andrea Dworkin, and Dizney [sic]—dictators of every stripe. The typography builds architecturally, punctuated by intentionally iconic imagery.

After Petronio’s solo to Bach’s Ave Maria, the music—an original score by David Linton and ABONECRONEDRONE2 by Sheila Chandra—spits out sounds and zaps the acoustics, a harsh, inhuman reminder inserted between the layers of words and the dance. The per formers move like semaphores within the flattened space, purposefully carving and then in habiting it. For Petronio, long interested in two-dimensionality, Not Garden is almost sculptural. It calls to mind Set and Reset, Trisha Brown’s 1983 dance set against a montage of photographic imagery by Robert Rauschenberg, in which Petronio performed.

The projected images signifying the four elements are mundane in contrast to the truly elemental movement—flowing, crackling, knowledgeable, searching motions. Yet there is no real exploration: the movement continually loops back on itself, flailing and forceful, making patterns not unlike the static on the scrim. Perhaps that’s the point; time flies, and slams and smashes, but it doesn’t go anywhere. In the second act, which Petronio describes as the future, the dancers move backward. The final, nuanced image has Petronio tethered and tilted forward, decidedly leaning rather than leaping into the next millennium.