Written by Dancer & Education Coordinator, Davalois Fearon
Stephen Petronio Company held a five-day workshop at Gibney Dance Center in NYC. Each class was four hours and taught in three parts: Technical Warm-up, Choreography in Progress, and Repertory. Class began with a Petronio technique warm-up, then continued to a creative session of Petronio choreographing on the students, and finished with an intensive Petronio repertory session.
It was an amazing opportunity for students to publicly participate in Stephen’s creative process and understand how he generates movement. Following Stephen when he is creating movement is like trying to grasp an elusive moving target.
As education coordinator, it was important for me that students got the most out of the workshop. I watched intently as they tried to hold on to the runaway train that is Stephen Petronio. I saw them go through a similar process that all company members experience the first time they make movement with Stephen. They were at times faced with confusion of which movements were right versus wrong and sometimes struggled with how to consistently execute the details of each movement. I remembered being there in there exact position thinking, “I have no idea what Stephen wants,” or “Ooh crap, I looked away for a second and missed what he did….now what do I do?”
Below is a clip of Stephen’s Choreography in Progress:
I helped students understand that those dilemmas were actually the secret gifts of being immersed in Stephen’s creative process. Stephen helps dancers develop their individual style of moving by giving them the freedom to do his movement in their own unique way. Onlookers got to watch participants of the Gibney workshop enjoy that freedom. The students went from struggling at the beginning, to being confident by the end, hungry for more!
During the intensive repertory session, I taught the beginning of a section named, “Weary,” from Stephen Petronio’s Like Lazarus Did. I began by teaching the movement material used to create “Weary,” called the “Straight Phrase.” It was important for students to learn the Straight Phrase first since it gave them a chance to practice the timing and execution of the movement. I was also able to highlight Petronio technique in the phrase, and share the background of how the phrase was developed in rehearsal. After teaching the phrases, I assigned roles to the students, dividing them up into four casts, and had the students then watch a video of “Weary” for spacing and connections. Before watching the video, I told them to pay close attention to their roles. It was easier for students to understand their own role and how their roles were connected by knowing the Straight Phrase beforehand. Afterwards, I walked each group through the beginning of “Weary” and spatially arranged them. For the final phase of staging the repertory, I helped each group achieve the timing and details of the Straight Phrase while maintaining their connections and spacing.
I did this with the help of Stephen and a different company member each day. Jaqi helped me teach them the overall foundations of the Straight Phrase. Emily was influential in recalling specific instructions she received from Stephen, while Josh and Nick helped me demonstrate individual interpretation of the same movement. By the end, each group confidently met the demands of the opening section of “Weary”.
I was able to get some feed back from a few students. Overall, they loved the opportunity to create movement with a living choreography master and to have a section of a his piece set on them. In addition, they loved how clear and informative I was as teacher. I look forward to the next one!