By Stephen Petronio
I just returned from Amherst, MA where Stephen Petronio Company appeared at the UMass Fine Arts Center for the 3rd time in my career. This one seemed to be the charm.
The week before, I closed out the Company’s 30th anniversary with the inaugural performance of Bloodlines, a project I initiated to embrace some key works of my mentors.
This year it was Merce Cunningham and his iconic RainForest, in collaboration with Andy Warhol and David Tudor; an incredibly emotional week in New York, which I perceived as a great risk. Can I really hope to show my work next to Merce Cunningham and come away unscathed by the comparisons? Incredibly, there seemed to be a genuine outpouring of love and support for our rendition of RainForest and for the concept of Bloodlines in general. I’m humbled and grateful for such a warm response. The last night of shows I felt a crack in time during the performance, and we were not honoring history at all, but were embodying a crucial state of presence in the eternal.
Then off to Amherst and the irony of my return to the Connecticut River valley was not lost on me. It was here that I began my dancing life. Hampshire College (Fall 74) was the school I chose, and Improvisation with Francia McClellan (now Tara Stephenburg) was the 1st ever class that split open another eternal world– a somatic present.
So 30 years to here and a new start with Bloodlines, and then back to the start. In Amherst, I return the victorious artist, but remain ever the child. While sitting at some collegiate cafe on Main St. in Amherst, I am 18 fresh and shy, ravenous for experience to plunge deeply into thought, people, a life as yet unlived. The sense of knowing nothing, of beginning is so strongly a part of my Aries nature, I realize that after all this, these 30-odd years of research, experience, pain, and success, that it is the beginners mind that has both held me in check and propelled me forward. Being a beginner in those first classes at Hampshire, Smith, UMass, Amherst, and Mount Holyoke afforded me certain power, the power of no expectation, the fool who can learn freely and unencumbered by what I know.
Now on the other side of a 30-year cycle it is time to begin again with this same perspective. How does one continue forward with all that I have learned, while remaining as blank and open to possibility as that young man who came to town in 1974?
Stephen Petronio with students at UMass Amherst, Photo: Ben Barnhart.