Like Lazarus Did (LLD 4/30): Stephen Petronio Company at the Joyce Theater….
As I was entering the Joyce Theater to take my seat I was handed a prayer card inscribed with…
“Should I look among the living/should I look among the dead/if I’m searching for you…”
Suspended over the audience, visual/performance artist Janine Antoni lies motionless in an ambulance gurney. Ms. Antoni has one arm visibly, attached to that arm is what seemed to be an IV. Above her is an array of plastic body parts and bleached bones, hanging like a macabre chime. An eerie stillness emanates from the living sculpture.
On stage Mr. Petronio is reposed with his arms over is chest as if in death or a coma, his eyes closed his body unmoving. The drapes of the Joyce are elegantly lifted a foot or so enabling us to glimpse the stage.
These are the first visual impressions given for Stephen Petronio’s newest work Like Lazarus Did (LLD 4/30), an evening-length work inspired by the mythology of resurrection. In a somber procession Son Lux enters strumming a guitar with Rob Moose on violin and C. J. Camerieri on trumpet. Above them is held a large black, elegantly trimmed and tasseled umbrella. This brought to mind the funeral processions of New Orleans, where death was once viewed as both a loss and a celebration.
Son Lux created the original electroacoustic score that draws from a range of spiritual music and texts, from early American slave songs to the meditative drones of Eastern mysticism.
Thirty members of The Young People’s Chorus of New York City, all draped in black enter and flow up the two aisles of the Joyce. They are somber, fresh-faced and angelic. They start to sing the American slave spiritual “Like Lazarus Did”…I want to die like Lazarus did….you see feet walk on stage and the curtain is lifted.
Nine dancers in white mid-thigh length shifts begin to move slowly in a meditative dream-like manner. Often the body is seen from the side, feet somewhat separate, knees bent, and arms slightly out from the body, looking straight ahead. I am reminded of Egyptian motives and the imagery from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
This dreamlike quality becomes even more so as fog starts to slowly roll across the stage, the dancers become wraiths flowing within the mists of loss and time. Mr. Petronio’s choreography seems simple and uncomplicated to the eye, but in reality that is a deception. It flows with a natural lyricism that is intrinsic to the harmony of the body’s rhythms. Movement in and out, up and down, circulars that spiral.
Like Lazarus Did (LLD 4/30) has a haunting beauty, a sense that you are witnessing the transience of nature, the circular cycling of ending and rebirth.
Dancers enter and exit arbitrarily as we do in life. One moment you are alive, one moment you are dead. One moment you are present the next you are not. It is the constant cycle of live and death, somewhere someone dies and somewhere a baby is born.
Son Lux’ original score brilliantly a lines itself with Mr. Petronio’s vision. Inspired by and utilizing early American slave songs from the 19th century, a time in America’s history where the only hope for some was a possible resurrection from a life of suffering and cruelty. The score is as stirring as the choreography and together blend into the most original of visions.
Three men form a trio to perform a dance than was primal in its nature, an exacting expression of masculine energies. Following was a trio for three women, where the men’s energies were outward the women’s were more contained. The women’s trio possessed a nurturing, a deep sense of understanding and empathy of life.
Two silken cords falls from the rafters, Man’s umbilical cord from God. A lone dancer, Joshua Tuason, his arms entwined with the cords turns away from us and begins to undulate his back muscles then gyrating his hips. Mr. Tuason much be mentioned for the mystery and suppleness of movement he brought to this solo. Then the curtain falls only to rise to find the whole company on stage in fast motions and whip-like turns.
But here is where I had trouble and that was the men’s costumes…..Everything up to this point I thought inspired, rather genius…and then came the men wearing tight black tee’s with black briefs with red fabric tied around their waist…It was the red fabric around their waist….
I found the red fabrics, which since I have been told were meant to be sarongs, distracting from the work as a whole. They were so ill fitting they even looked bad on Barrington Hinds, …& I did not think that anything could EVER look bad on Barrington Hinds…………
Nicolas Sciscione comes on stage wearing nothing but nude colored briefs, the briefs are perfectly matched with his skin tone so he appears nude at first glance. Lullaby to a Baby…”hush little baby, go to sleep”… is heard as Mr. Sciscione begins an anguished solo, primal in its passion.
He begins standing but soon finds his way to the floor. Like an infant he discovers parts of his body, finding a foot, a hand… He is contemplative about each movement, careful as would an infant learning to walk.
For some reason I am reminded of the crucifixion of Christ as I watch….The suffering, the rebirth, the transcendence….
Stephen Petronio’s latest work, Like Lazarus Did (LLD 4/30) is little short of genius. It is a vision of originality and insight that needs to be seen to truly grasp its brilliance.