Reconstructing Strange Attractors

By February 15, 2014EDA, Video, Writing

Company member Gino Grenek is both a dancer and assistant to the artistic director. Here he shares some insight into the process of reconstructing Strange Attractors Part I for Petronio’s upcoming thirtieth anniversary season.

Strange Attractors Part I, with a commissioned score from Michael Nyman, premiered in November 1999 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

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I joined the company in April of that year, and Strange Attractors Part I was the first Petronio piece in which I originated my role. As Stephen Petronio’s assistant, it is my responsibility to help in the reconstruction of the work. This is a level of trust that I take very seriously.

I began preparing for the process this past summer, in Cardiff, while I was assisting Stephen on a commission for the National Dance Company Wales. I would spend roughly six hours each day working with the brilliant dancers of NDCW on the new dance, Water Stories, and then at night I would stay up way too late studying past recordings of Strange Attractors Part I. I could not stop watching it again and again as I rediscovered those quick and fleeting connections that glue the entire piece together.

I marveled at the extreme beauty of those former Petronio dancers and friends and got excited about the possibilities of watching the current company members embody the work. For me, any successful revival honors in an honest way what came before and at the same time allows the current cast to discover the truthfulness of their own interpretations and understandings of the material. Reconstructions are an amazing opportunity for the dancers to physicalize a piece of company history and to realize that they are part of a continuous decades-long line of creativity, strength, and determination.

While still in Wales, Stephen and I began to sort through the roles to determine which dancer was best suited for each part as well as ensuring there would be healthy challenges along the way. If there is no opportunity for growth in the process, then there really is no reason to embark on the journey. The current Petronio dancers began learning their roles in September. Restaging a Petronio piece is never just about learning the intricate steps. It is vital for everyone in the room to understand the shocking and stunning pathways of energy that fly from Stephen’s mind and body and how those pathways weave, intersect, and connect to the other dancers and the space around them. That deep understanding by the dancers directly impacts how the audiences experience the work. As dancers, whenever we step into a studio or out onto a stage it is always our responsibility to respect, to the best of our abilities, the integrity of the work. As far as each audience is concerned, there are no second chances. They paid for that specific performance.

Prior to departing for our year-end break in December, we finished the strenuous task of piecing Strange Attractors Part I back together moment by moment. In January we will reverse the process as we excavate each layer of the dance to discover all the slippery and mysterious details that we may have missed while reconstructing the piece. Ultimately I do not want to merely watch talented dancers executing steps. I need to witness artists using the material in a sincere, thoughtful, articulate conversation with space, each other, and the audience. Come see the results in April at the Joyce Theater and discover why Clive Barnes once described the piece as “one of those works that can define what dance is all about.” Be there.

GINO GRENEK is the Assistant to the Artistic Director for Stephen Petronio Company. Originally from Rochester, New York, he is a graduate of both Dartmouth College (Engineering Sciences and Studio Art, 1994) and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (MFA in Dance, 1996). Grenek performed in Matthew Bourne’s award-winning reinterpretation of Swan Lake (1998-1999) as a member of the original Broadway cast. For eight years he toured with the Stephen Petronio Company across five continents (1999-2007). He has assisted Mr. Petronio with the creation of new works for NorrDans (Sweden, 2004), Washington Ballet (United States, 2007), Ballet de Lorraine (France, 2009), and National Dance Company Wales (United Kingdom, 2010). In 2007, Grenek was honored with a New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award for his body of work with Stephen Petronio. He returned to the company in 2009.