In what promises to be one of the highlight of the University’s arts season, the famed Stephen Petronio Company is bringing one of their newest shows to the Center for the Arts theater this weekend, on the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth of September. Dancer or not, cultural connoisseur or novice, this is one event not to be missed. Celebrating both the 25th anniversary season of the Petronio Company’s run and the 10th anniversary of Wesleyan’s virtuosic “Breaking Ground” dance series, the show promises to be a sensational piece of artwork and a beautiful evening to behold.
Founded in 1984, the Stephen Petronio Company gained (and has maintained) a reputation as one of the best modern dance companies in the world, led by one of the most innovative and talented choreographers. They have performed in 26 countries, recently completing a nine-city tour of the UK, and have had 35 New York shows. Their best-known productions include the critically acclaimed Beauty and the Brut, BLOOM, Bud Suite, and This is the Story of a Girl in the World.
This will be the second performance of the company’s main production for the season, I Drink The Air Before Me; it opened in New York on April 28 at the Joyce Theater to rave reviews. Gia Kourlas of The New York Times described “ferocious speed, rigorous structure and dancers who ravel and unravel like ribbons.”
According to Petronio’s production notes, the frenzied show is “inspired by storms both environmental and internal, and the whirling, unpredictable, threatening and thrilling forces of nature that overwhelm us,” If the posters showing bent, contorted, energetic and vivacious figures around campus are to be believed, this will be a powerful storm indeed.
I Drink the Air Before Me includes twelve live performers, but also incorporates four enormous fans, a massive truss the height of the stage, and lighting supervised by a Wesleyan alumnus, Burke Wilmore ’93. Between the wind and the rain, artificial or not, this show promises to be quite a spectacle—and at just eight dollars a head, it’s reasonably priced for students (tickets are $23 for the general public, $19 for faculty, staff, and seniors). For music-lovers, there’s even an original score by Nico Muhly, featuring a live choir described as “an exhilarating clamor, as varied as it was exciting” by Jack Anderson of the New York Theatre Wire. In this case, the choir is being furnished by Middletown High School.
After their stop at the University, the company plans to continue on a two-year tour of this latest performance, as well as seeking a permanent base for their work where they hope to establish a “Center for Collaborative Artists.” In his program notes, Petronio tells the audience that, “Instead of looking back on our achievements like photographs of old friends, I have chosen to look to the future with a new work. I wanted to give a dance that spoke of riding the awesome and unpredictable forces of now.” The rocking, rollicking power of now is what this dance is about: we enter the theater so that we, like Ariel in The Tempest (who gave the show its name), can tell people, “I drink the air before me, and return / Or ere your pulse twice beat.” We may not like to return, true—but who would really want to pass up the sweet taste of the drink?

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