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The Joyce Goes Digital: Interviews with Stephen Petronio and Irene Rodriguez

by Bonnie Rosenstock
May 6, 2020
New York, NY
The Joyce Theater Foundation is responding to the Covid-19 shut down of all live entertainment venues with access to new programming for its Bring Dance Home collection of curated digital performances, interviews, podcasts, film, classes and other activities for its dance audiences. JoyceStream, which began on April 3, will feature a selection of weekly full-length performances by artists and companies from past and current Joyce seasons. In addition, just like the popular curtain chats, JoyceStream will have a pre-recorded artist talk back in the middle of that week with a Joyce staff member and an artist.

“Since we are a venue, not a company itself, that means looking to the companies we are closest to, that we love, that we have had at The Joyce several times and look at what pieces they want to share with the audience virtually,” said Director of Marketing Andy Sheagren in a phone conversation.

Performances usually start on a Friday at 7 p.m. and continue until the following Friday at 10 a.m., followed by a new company that night. “We looked at a variety of ways of doing it and landed on this weekly model because we wanted it to feel similar to a Joyce experience, where a company usually performs for a week at a time,” said Sheagren. “We try to replicate the feeling of being together with a group of people watching artists they love. If that doesn’t work for them, they can view it the rest of the week.”

Not all of the companies they would like to present have videos of the right quality or have rights to share, explained Sheagren. “A lot of them are still working through that and want to share their videos with us, which is one of our goals.”

I spoke with two participating artists about their works presented on JoyceStream: Cuba’s flamenco diva Irene Rodriguez, via email Q & A, and by phone with New York City-based Stephen Petronio. Compañía Irene Rodriguez will offer two works for one week beginning Friday, May 8 at 7 p.m., the solo "Solera" and the full-company Encierro. The Stephen Petronio Company will present the topical American Landscapes May 15 at 7 p.m. through May 22, with an artist talk back with Joyce programmer Aaron Mattocks on May 19 at 7 p.m.

Rodriguez has been sheltering in place with her mother, which has helped her feel supported and loved. “At the same time, I am taking care of her,” she said. She chose the 10-minute "Solera" (audiovisual by the Italian artist Alfredo Cannatello in 2019) because it is one of her most beloved solos, filmed in the magnificent Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso. “It saw me born as an artist and has witnessed my best creations and because like no other production, it presents a special intimacy with the audience,” she said. “It permits them to see details of my sweat, to hear my breathing, to see the resonance of my heelwork from various angles.”

"Solera" is also autobiographical and one of her most acclaimed solos after it premiered at The Joyce in 2016. “That fight against those forces that have wanted to silence me are very well expressed in this choreography, and my final improvisations give me the freedom to express Irene as she is, to break the fourth wall and to communicate directly with the audience,” she said.

Encierro (14 minutes, complete work with final greetings included) was filmed during its world premiere, “so it contains all the emotion and nervousness of a debut performed by the Compañía Irene Rodriguez in 2019,” she said. It was inspired by the Encierros (Running of the Bulls) in Pamplona and bullfighting in Spain. The Bull Run consists of the transfer of the brave and more docile bulls from the corrals to the bullring through the city streets. The brave bulls will be raffled off to be fought by the various toreros (bullfighters). “The Shadow of Death covers the arena debating with itself between two great forces: the bull's and the man's, who face each other all through the bullfight, and both points of view are expressed,” she said.

The work occupies a very special place in her heart, Rodriguez said. “Playing an animal and especially ‘a bull,’ being a woman, required not only enormous technical skill and physical endurance, but also willpower and a very visceral interpretation to express my point of view on such a controversial subject.”

I caught up with Stephen Petronio by phone at his Catskills retreat high in the mountains, where he has a studio and is teaching three classes a week on Zoom. American Landscapes (24 minutes, 2019), he said, was almost like journal reporting, compositionally, a document on what was happening in America that year. “It’s related to Flint, Michigan, global warming, ice melting and waves crashing. Some are political demonstrations, [Colin]Kaepernick taking a knee,” he explained. “It would be a different moment now,” he added.

American Landscapes is a communal group of people moving from stage left to stage right, like heading West, “’Go West, young person,’ using that as a structural device,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite pieces. The dancers were at a very high pitch. I’m very proud of the show.”

American painter and sculptor Robert Longo provided the changing images, which are large projected charcoal drawings that look like photographs, said Petronio. The music is by film director and musician Jim Jarmusch and Dutch-born minimalist composer and lute player Jozef Van Wissem, who are frequent collaborators.

“We’ll get better at these platforms,” said Petronio, “but nothing will ever replace being face to face or face to back or face to side. I long for the moment when we can be in the studio together, and I long for the moment when I can be back in a performance space. We’re astronauts on solo missions right now.”

Visit Joyce.org for the most up-to-date performance schedule.
Irene Rodríguez

Irene Rodríguez

Photo © & courtesy of Photographer Unknown



Photo © & courtesy of Christopher Duggan



Photo © & courtesy of Yohan GarcÍa

Stephen Petronio Company in Stephen Petronio's AMERICAN LANDSCAPES (2019). Photo by Sarah Silver. Image by Robert Longo

Stephen Petronio Company in Stephen Petronio's AMERICAN LANDSCAPES (2019). Photo by Sarah Silver. Image by Robert Longo

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Longo

Tess Montoya and Taylor Boyland of Stephen Petronio Company in Stephen Petronio's AMERICAN LANDSCAPES (2019). Photo by Sarah Silver. Image by Robert Longo.

Tess Montoya and Taylor Boyland of Stephen Petronio Company in Stephen Petronio's AMERICAN LANDSCAPES (2019). Photo by Sarah Silver. Image by Robert Longo.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Longo

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