Stephen Petronio Post-Modern Dance Master at the Washington Center

by Yvonne Joyce for OLY ARTS

Stephen Petronio is a name — and dance company — well known to audiences in New York City, but less well known on the West Coast, except among dance aficionados. The post-modern New York-based choreographer and his company will make their Olympia debut next week.

Described by dance critics variously as “theatrical”, “provocative”, “breath-taking”, and “just right,” Petronio’s work asks audiences to see dance through new eyes. References in his work run the gamut from diva-inspired numbers to mechanical automata to gender-bending movement. The company’s work is always challenging and surprising.

“We’re excited to bring Stephen Petronio’s dynamic and provocative presence to our stage,” says Billy Thomas of The Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia.

The Stephen Petronio Company was founded in 1984. To date, the company has performed in 40 countries and has headlined 23 Joyce Theater engagements in New York. Acclaimed by audiences and critics alike, Stephen Petronio is widely regarded as one of the leading dance-makers of his generation.

Petronio’s most recent innovative work is entitled “Hardness 10.” The piece features music by Nico Muhly and costumes by award-winning costume designer Patricia Field. “Hardness 10” premiered in New York City last week and will be shown for the first time on the West Coast in Olympia.

The title references the hardness rating of a diamond. “I was thinking about the Superman cartoon, about how he compresses coal in his hand and turns it into a diamond,” the choreographer said to Molly Gilmore in the Olympian. “That is a caricature of what happens. I like that something went from gritty and dirty to super powerful and then got faceted into this sparkling multi-dimensional thing of extreme value.”

Through the movement and bodies of the Petronio company dancers, this geological process is transmuted into the change of simple movements into complex dance numbers.

“First you’re breathing, then you’re walking, then you’re running,” Petronio said to Gilmore. “That’s basic movement. That turns into this highly specific and virtuosic movement that I’ve been making over the years.”

Next week’s dance program in Olympia will also include an excerpt from Paxton’s 1986 “Goldberg Variations,” set to Glenn Gould’s recording of the Bach score. The piece was part of the company’s New York City program in 2017, and is an effort by Petronio and company to bring back works from earlier eras in dance history and reframe them as fresh and original. Petronio describes such work as an effort to “shift dance history from the books into the body.”

On stage, the dancers will showcase a variety of costumes created for Petronio’s company. Designers who have worked with the company are a whos-who of New York fashion, from “Sex and the City” costume designer Patricia Field and Philadelphia designer Iris Barbee Bonner. Petronio has also worked with a number of other well-known collaborators such as Laurie Anderson, Son Lux (Ryan Lott), Lou Reed, Cindy Sherman and Rufus Wainwright.


WHAT:  Stephen Petronio Company

WHERE:  The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St SE, Olympia, WA 98501.

HOW MUCH: $16-$35 ($10 student rush tickets available only on day of show)

WHEN: March 29, 7:30 pm

MORE INFO: 360-753-8586 | Washington Center Petronio Event


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