Stephen Petronio's Dance Revolution

Controversial choreographer Stephen Petronio caps his eponymous company’s 25th anniversary season by revisiting his ACT UP involvement and putting his bare-assed male dancers back in corsets.

BY Brandon Voss

April 26 2010 3:05 PM ET

STEPHEN PETRONIO MAIN X390 (CHRIS NASH) | ADVOCATE.COMThe male corsets in that piece caused quite a stir at the time.
It’s funny because for me the corsets were great, perfect. I remember opening up The New York Times after the premiere, and there was a two-page spread review with a giant caption that read, “Why Corsets?” But sometimes the world does catch up, doesn’t it?

So the corsets are back?
Yes, the corsets are back. The men wear corsets and no bottoms — they just have dance belts — so their asses are out. Here’s my quote for The Advocate: If we’re going to get our asses out, I want the gay community to get their asses out and come to the show.

Are you a slave to your original vision and choreography when you remount an older work like “MiddleSexGorge,” or do you allow yourself to reshape or contemporize it a bit?
No, I don’t touch it, and I definitely haven’t touched this particular work. I was working in such an incredibly passionate, instinctual state when I made it, and I love the way the piece turned out. I just got it right. It was kind of a primer or a turning point for me, so I hold up this work as a model for the works I made after that.

One could argue that AIDS and gay activism has fallen out of fashion in the artistic consciousness — contemporary artists, writers, and filmmakers just aren’t dealing with those subjects in the same way or to the same extent as they used to. Does the modern audience’s changed perceptions make “MiddleSexGorge” a period piece?
I’m not so convinced it’s out of fashion. Sean Penn just won an Oscar for Milk — I love Sean Penn, but I wish he were a gay actor — so I don’t think it’s completely out of fashion. I thought the anniversary was a good moment to bring back that work and reexamine what life was like back then, but I don’t think it’s a period piece because we’re still fighting battles. I do know, though, that in my life I got very tired of being a gay poster boy. There was a time in the early ’90s when, because I had gotten a certain level of recognition, I didn’t even talk about the actual dancing — I’d talk more about my love life. I felt it was my duty to insert my sexuality and whomever I was sleeping with at the moment into all the dance interviews I was doing. Then I got very sick of that after three or four years, when I felt I was becoming more of a poster child for a cause than an artist. I let that part of myself become more of a subtext to my work as opposed to the thing I was screaming.

So your sexuality still informs your work, albeit in less obvious, less political ways.
Absolutely. I came of age as an artist being a very loudmouthed gay person, and that’s always there, but it just manifests itself at different times and in different ways in my career. I don’t say I’m a “gay artist,” but I am an artist who is gay and has a life partner, so those things are very much at the tip of my tongue whenever I’m interacting in any aspect of my life.

Some fans might miss your more overtly queer work.
I possibly had more gay fans when I was doing the more balls-out work, but there was also a ghettoizing of my work that I was not comfortable with. I’m making work from my heart that I feel should be in the world, so I want it to be seen by as many people as possible. I don’t need to be preaching to the gay community, because no one needs me to tell them what to think. My work is not about reinforcing expectations; it’s about subverting them. I believe that subversion is a deeply gay sensibility, so whether I’m subverting you with my sexual politics or with another aspect of my craft, it all comes from my soul.

Tags: Dance

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