I reviewed the Stephen Petronio Company for today’s Chronicle:

“For fans of music star Rufus Wainwright, Stephen Petronio’s latest dances sounded like a dream match: One of America’s hippest choreographers takes on Canada’s hippest nasal-voiced singer-songwriter.

But the early word from the Stephen Petronio Company’s native New York was not warm, and over the weekend the troupe’s San Francisco Performances engagement at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts proved why. The problem was not that Petronio’s hard-edged aesthetic — bodies that slash through space, legs and arms that work like switchblades — stands emotional worlds apart from Wainwright’s warm, witty pop-folk-opera mash-up. The problem was that Petronio uses Wainwright’s music like wallpaper.

The cleverest element of “Bud Suite,” set to four of Wainwright’s best songs, was Tara Subkoff’s costumes: half a blazer held on by straps for the two men in “Oh, What a World,” campy tutus in “Vibrate” and post-coital-looking white men’s shirts above red underwear for the women in “This Love Affair” and “Agnus Dei.” Petronio himself had little to add to the music: His rocket-propelled couplings and signature closing tableaux neither contrasted meaningfully with the songs nor made any comment upon them. Lest this seem a mere pitfall of choreographing to contemporary pop music, let the record show that another New York choreographer, Doug Elkins, has made a wonderful toreador-inspired solo to “Vibrate.”

Petronio’s lack of a fruitful connection — or disconnection — to Wainwright’s music only intensifies in the more ambitious “Bloom.” Here the commissioned score is Wainwright in operatic mode, setting Whitman, Dickinson and a Latin Mass to droning choral harmonies (mostly his voice, recorded).”

Click here for the full review.

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