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Stephen Petronio teams up with Rufus Wainwright

Dark times. Some people run for cover, try to shield themselves from the grip of fear by avoiding what’s going on. Others choose numbness. Artists, the conscience bearers of our culture, always opt for some kind of response—be it confrontational, or otherwise. Artists keep going no matter what obstacles the world throws out in front of them.

When our illegitimate government of men used gay marriage as a wedge of fear to lure voters, Stephen Petronio responded with a physical duet for two men called “Bud,” which celebrated and muted any response other than elation for their interdependent relationship—unlike the more mainstream “Brokeback Mountain” with its portrait of tortured codependent souls, gay and straight.

Set to a pre-recorded track by singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright, “Bud,” was just a taste of the collaboration with the choreographer. The full fruits of this queer partnership will be unveiled at The Joyce Theater in a new work called “Bloom.”

Wainwright’s original score includes special live guests, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City under the direction of Francisco Núñez.

“When I proposed the idea of a children’s choir,” said Petronio, “I thought it might drive him away. Instead he delivered an amazingly beautiful chorale score. I expected him to write a song, to do the minimum; but he did the maximum.”

The text for the songs is from poems by Walt Whitman, which was Petronio’s choice, and Emily Dickinson, which was Wainwright’s choice.

“It’s a pretty wholesome little work,” said the choreographer. “I wanted to make something filled with light, something luminescent. I’ve been driving in [the opposite] direction for a long time.

“’Bloom’ is much more abstract. For a while I’ve been working with vaguely character driven ideas. I’ve stopped that. There’s no real story, just an embracing of the joyous teenage moment.”

The program includes an expanded version of “Bud” entitled “Bud Suite.” Set to four pre-recorded Rufus songs, there are four dances that each address desire in physical partnerships. In addition to the previously presented male duet, there is a female duet, a female quartet, and what the choreographer calls “a group grope.”

For much of his career, Petronio has been identified as an enfant terrible, an iconoclast, a provocateur—all for good reason—and he has worn that well, along with his badges of integrity, shrewdness, and legerdemain. Don’t worry.

While the lighter side of Stephen Petronio will be display, almost as a reminder the program will close with a work about empowerment called “The Right Part.”

“This is more angry Stephen from the ’90s,” said Stephen.

“This show is all about spring, about change. Stravinsky’s version was violent. To press out, to become something else is a violent horrific transformation. It’s not all throwing daisies in the air.”

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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