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Review: Stephen Petronio Looks to the NYC of His Past for Inspiration

At times, the echoes were palpable. In “No More Heroes,” to the punk band the Stranglers, Nicholas Sciscione, wearing a billowy, transparent white top and shimmery shorts by Manolo, etched the stage with a phantom feeling of the complete dance — Petronio’s “Lareigne” (1995) — in his prickly and frenzied airborne solo. With his hair in pigtails, Ryan Pliss tore across the stage in “For Today I Am a Boy,” set to Anohni (from “This is the Story of a Girl in a World,” 2008); angular in one moment and wilted in the next, Pliss demonstrated masterful control. And Jaqlin Medlock, in “Pre-Weep” set to to Nick Cave (from “Underland,” 2011), showed off her ever-rippling arms with luscious abandon.

But presented back to back, with the performers changing costumes off to the side, the works seemed more like fragments of dances than complete works; they could also nod too closely to the lyrics. The costume that Mac Twining wore in “Sleeping Pills,” to the London Suede (from “Drawn That Way,” 1996), featured an oversized pill capsule strapped to his back. And when an Elvis Presley recording of “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” a recent video work transferred to the stage, was followed up with “Love Me Tender” (from “The King Is Dead,” 1993), it felt like a fall down a YouTube rabbit hole.

Petronio’s choice of songs — “human markers from pop culture,” he calls them — are full of emotion; in some ways, the soundtrack also seems to also pine for the glory days of the East Village with its, he writes, “fierce street fashion and poetry that screams into the void.” Then, nightclubs were performance spaces ripe for experimentation; here, a machine filled the stage with hazy smoke. But even at La MaMa, an East Village institution and survivor of gentrification, it felt forced, more like a nostalgic whisper than a fierce, ferocious scream.

Petronio Punk Picks and Other Delights

Through Sunday at La MaMa, lamama.org

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