The chaos of world political affairs in recent years has provided New York choreographer Stephen Petronio with fertile material for inspiration.
Petronio created the Sydney Dance Company work Underland in 2003 in response to the horror he saw unfold in his own city in September 2001.
Now, as Underland prepares for a return Sydney season at the Theatre Royal from 13 September, five years after the terrorist attacks on New York, Petronio says the show is just as relevant the second time around.
Speaking from the Manhattan home of his partner, Petronio explains, I made the work in the period after 9/11, and now that the Middle East is raging, you have to stand back for a minute and think, -˜Will things ever get brighter?’ It is just so crazy.
I have this feeling that there are some kinds of subterranean issues in the world, and the world is in a very dark place right now -“ probably darker than when I first wrote it.
But I use the dance like a daily journal about life. When you see things like refugees running down the street, I try to sew those memories into the motion of the movement. It is a little abstract, but the subtext is there.
Underland marked a bold collaboration between the internationally acclaimed Petronio and Nick Cave, the moody singer-songwriter often called The Prince of Darkness.
The work was acclaimed for the fusion of Petronio’s signature style of fast and razor-sharp movements with the wild and haunting music of Cave.
Petronio says working with Cave’s music provided almost instant inspiration for his dance moves.
It was the biggest piece I have ever made in the shortest period of time, he says. Nick Cave is one of the greatest poets alive. He is an outlaw and takes you down to a very deep emotional place with his work, and that is where I wanted to go with Underland.
I am glad we are doing this again as my work is usually pretty dense, so a second viewing is more satisfying. It gives people some time to rest on it and think.
In the past, Petronio has also collaborated with Rufus Wainwright, and choreographed to the music of Cyndi Lauper.
In new works he is currently creating for a Swedish dance company, he is using the music of Antony and The Johnsons. I’d love to work with him, but it is just some of his tracks I am using at this stage, he says.
While the upcoming Swedish shows, as well as a commission in Scotland, mean it’s unlikely Petronio will be returning to Sydney for the new season of Underland, he confesses he loves being in the foyer of his shows once the curtain comes down.
He laughs as he says listening to other people’s interpretations of his work is something he never tires of. I am always surprised by what people see in the work, he says.
Some good friends think they know it even more because they know me and then offer me interpretations, but I don’t often comment on it.
Whether it is right or wrong, the fact that people have a reaction to the work is very profound to me. Everyone sees something very personal in that way, but I am always amused by what they say.
Underland plays 13-30 September at the Theatre Royal. Bookings on 132 849 or at the Ticketek website.