Avant-garde costumes by a New York fashion designer, original music by Rufus Wainwright and beautiful specimens of the human form are more than icing on the cake for the Stephen Petronio dance company, which has its University debut tonight at 8 p.m. at the Power Center.

Christina Choi
Modern dance on the rise this weekend at the Power Center. (Courtesy of UMS)

The modern dance company brings to Ann Arbor a show that had its debut last April in New York’s Joyce Theater. Two of the three pieces are new works set to music by Wainwright – existing songs as well as original pieces the folk singer-songwriter composed for the company. Petronio, the group’s founder and artistic director, is a popular choreographer in his own right, creating works by commission for dance companies around the world. His extensive list of accolades includes fellowships and awards from groups like the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. His company, founded only in 1984, is about to begin its largest U.S. tour to date, taking the company as far as UC Santa Cruz and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

The relative youth of the company and popularity of its founder speak to its hip factor. Thankfully, those hip touches that risk doing little more than sounding good on paper are, instead, the crux of the company’s artistry.

Petronio’s choices of music, lighting, design, costuming and choreography all seamlessly complement one another. The costumes add a narrative element to moments such as the first part of “Bud Suite,” Wainwright’s song about “Men reading fashion magazines / Oh what a world / It seems we live in.” The piece ends up a duet in which two male dancers each wear half a suit jacket, like complementary halves of a friendship charm.

Kicky, poppier elements always act in conjunction with high discipline. “Bud Suite’s” second section, set to Wainwright’s “Vibrate,” puts four women in mini tutus and backless men’s suit shirts. Accordingly, their bottom halves land just as precisely, extending and stretching as far as is the norm for prima ballerinas, although their torsos and heads are less pulled together, moving with more ambiguity and abandon.

Petronio’s dancers move with incredible confidence and his artistic choices are appropriate rather than simply flashy. This University debut brings an uncommon kind of momentum and expertise to dance performance.

Steven Petronio Company

Tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m.

At the Power Center


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