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Stephen Petronio returns with ‘Underland’

In 2003, Stephen Petronio made “Underland” on Australia’s Sydney Dance Company. Finally, he’s displaying it at the Joyce.

In 2003, Stephen Petronio made “Underland” on Australia’s Sydney Dance Company. Finally, he’s displaying it at the Joyce.

He demanded the music of Nick Cave and enlisted videographer Mike Daly, who provides images of clouds and flame, explosions punctuating music and movement. His longtime costumer Tara Subkoff outdoes herself here, wrapping the dancers in, by turns, sparkly black, red tutus and cotton fatigues.

The result is a riot of sound and visual stimuli in which the moving bodies, though extraordinary, are sometimes overmatched. It’s hard to pay attention to so many things at once; the video is bigger and brighter than the mere humans onstage, and Ken Tabachnick’s lighting favors the screens over the people. Cave’s lyrics toggle between hymn and profanity.

But as the hour-long piece proceeds, we get used to the clutter and hone in on the bare legs of the ensemble, from elegant solos to the provocative quartet in which men and women grope all their partners.

At last, for the ensemble rendition of Cave’s “Death is Not the End,” the screens go quiet as all eyes track the performers in Subkoff’s flame-like shreds of red. The bombast subsides, and we concentrate on Petronio’s choreography and the transcendent dancing.

 
 
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