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.



STEPHEN PETRONIO 2 X390 (SARAH SILVER) | ADVOCATE.COMYou and your partner, Jean-Marc Flack, were married in California in August 2008. Has marriage mellowed you or your work?
I’m an Italian boy, so marriage was really important to me. It’s made me incredibly happy, but Jean-Marc and I were together for 13 years before we got married. Marriage has allowed me to relax, and I think I’m making the best work of my life right now. I certainly wouldn’t say I’m complacent, but there are times when the work does seem more mellow or has a different kind of maturity because I’m much more relaxed about everything else.

You’ve collaborated with many other gay artists in the past — Nico Muhly and Rufus Wainwright, just to name a couple. Is that a happy coincidence, or did those collaborations have anything to do with your shared gay experience?
That’s hard to say. I mean, it does seem like I have a database of gay artists that I look through, but Rufus Wainwright blows my mind and Nico Muhly is one of most talented composers I’ve ever met. I didn’t know Nico all that well, so I didn’t really know he was gay until we started working together. First and foremost, I’m drawn to the most provocative artists I can find.

There’s never been a shortage of gay dancers in your company. Do you find yourself specifically drawn to gay dancers?
I’m drawn to sensual and sexual dancers. I’m drawn to animals on stage. If someone can let their animal out, I don’t see it in gay or straight terms. I’ve never had a straight man in the company that offended me — let me put it that way. I have lost a couple dancers for religious reasons, which is kind of odd. Once they got into the work, when they realized it was deeply sensual and subversive to whatever their straight framework was, they became so uncomfortable that they left. My jaw dropped. I never ask anybody to represent sexuality; I ask them to dig into their own and let it out on stage. If that’s uncomfortable for someone, they need to move on.

The quitters were straight?
Actually, one was gay with a very religious family, and his moment of reckoning came when his parents came to the show, so he freaked out. The other one was of questionable sexuality, so I don’t know what the real story was there.

You’re also dancing in this upcoming 25th anniversary program, which is the first time you’ve performed your work in New York since 2005.
Yes, I’m excited to get back on stage. I’m doing a work called “#3.” It’s based on photographs of people who use their voice in public — great divas of opera, the pop world, politicians — people who were in the news at the moment and some of my favorite people like Elvis Presley and Judy Garland. I made it in 1986, when I was too poor to have a rehearsal studio. I couldn’t move my feet, so I made the dance in fourth position, which is like one leg in front of the other. It’s just for my upper body, so as long as I can stand, I can still perform it.

Tags: Dance