Petronio’s 2011 work set to the music of Australian singer/songwriter Nick Cave was originally made for the Sydney Dance Company. In program notes, Petronio describes Underland “as a ‘place’, a kind of subconscious world ‘beneath the surface’, that locates the heart of Cave’s music”. The 14-section work succeeds in creating a dark, emotional world perfectly matched by Cave’s somber tones especially in ‘The Weeping Song’ and ‘The Ship Song’ sections. Petronio himself makes an appearance opening the piece by slowly crawling down an inclined ladder with a pen in his mouth, measuring time or distance by making marks on his arm. The “Descent” sets the stage for the hour-long world he has created.
Too many costume changes and a lackluster ending are the only downsides to this show. The choreography is smart, tight and interesting with solos, duets, trios and group work meshing so that your eyes and mind never get bored. The wildly off dancing in short tutus and garters in The Carny section deserve special mention. All the dancers were strong, yet distict, allowing their personalities and individual styles show through. Two that stood out were the petite Jaqlin Medlock, fierce technique and stunning attention to detail, and Joshua Green, powerhouse legwork set off with beautiful arms. The technique is what sets this group apart. Solid ballet training sets the base so they could do anything Petronio asks of them. With more experimental works, the technique sometimes gets lost. Not here. Gorgeous extensions (a la-besque?), a torqued jets, deconstructed fouette turns and a perky little parallel brise all make appearances. Slicing arms, a hip or head swirl, a bun askew all lend to the feel of a ballet gone beautifully wild.
Stephen Petronio Company presents Underland at the Dance Center, 1306 S. Michigan Ave. Final performance Saturday, March at 8 pm. Tickets are $ 30.