Child’s play

Ja­nine An­toni and Stephen Petro­nio’s Honey Baby

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Paul Wei­de­man

Ja­nine An­toni and Stephen Petro­nio’s Honey Baby

Artist Ja­nine An­toni and chore­og­ra­pher Stephen Petro­nio’s Honey Baby is a knock­out, a warped dance piece de­signed to give view­ers a win­dow into the in-utero world. In the 14-minute video, we ex­pe­ri­ence a fully grown-up “baby,” drip­ping with honey, mov­ing slowly, some­what tor­tu­ously, squirm­ing and tum­bling and stretch­ing against a cir­cu­lar en­clo­sure that is bathed in a yel­low­ish light. The mes­mer­iz­ing, provoca­tive spec­ta­cle plays with our no­tions about birth, the body, move­ment, and eroti­cism.

Honey Baby has its ori­gins in Trevor, an ear­lier piece by Petro­nio; both were per­formed by Ni­cholas Scis­cione, a mem­ber of the New York-based Stephen Petro­nio Com­pany. The dancer’s naked “birth solo” was built on im­ages from the sono­gram of one of Petro­nio’s rel­a­tives.

An­toni said she and the chore­og­ra­pher met “at a time when we were both in­ter­ested in change and re­think­ing our cre­ative pro­cesses.” Their first pro­ject to­gether was 2013’s Like Lazarus Did. “I’ve been ex­plor­ing dif­fer­ent forms of somatic dance prac­tices,” she ex­plained. “I al­ways have some kind of par­al­lel prac­tice go­ing on, some phys­i­cal prac­tice that’s in­spi­ra­tional to my mak­ing prac­tice.”

“I had been work­ing on this idea of rein­car­na­tion and bring­ing things back to life, which was right up her al­ley,” Petro­nio told Pasatiempo. “We be­gan a long and pas­sion­ate se­ries of con­ver­sa­tions that be­came

Like Lazarus Did.” For that piece, the artist sus­pended her­self above the dancers and the au­di­ence for the du­ra­tion of the hour­long per­for­mance.

She then had the idea of al­ter­ing Trevor by hav­ing the dancer per­form in honey, which would serve as an equiv­a­lent of am­ni­otic fluid. “When Stephen first came to me, I wanted to in­ter­act with the dancers’ bod­ies,” said An­toni, who is known for us­ing her own body in her art pieces — for ex­am­ple, paint­ing with her hair and eye­lashes, pee­ing off the Chrysler Build­ing via one of its gar­goyles, and im­mers­ing her­self in a tub of lard. “I didn’t want to make a set that was just an ob­ject be­hind the dancers. I wanted to re­ally get in there, in the way that I work with my own body. I sug­gested a few in­ter­ven­tions, and one was the honey, but I guess putting honey all over a dance floor is dan­ger­ous busi­ness.” The idea was put on the shelf un­til she got a show at the Mat­tress Fac­tory in Pittsburgh. She and Petro­nio then de­signed a ves­sel within which a honey-soaked Scis­cione per­formed.

An­toni worked with com­poser Tom Lau­rie and with cin­e­matog­ra­pher Kirsten John­son to cap­ture the stun­ning piece on video. “We wanted to make Nick look like he was sus­pended in space like we imag­ined the baby would be in utero,” she said. “The thing that ex­cited us about that is that when you think about it, dance is all about grav­ity. So could we cre­ate an il­lu­sion that would make you re­think the body moves com­pletely by re­mov­ing grav­ity? The way that’s done, re­ally, is by the ori­en­ta­tion of the cam­era.

“This is a womb­like en­vi­ron­ment, and the move­ments are com­ing from early de­vel­op­ment,” said An­toni, who is a birth mother and con­sid­ers the process to be mirac­u­lous. “But Nick is clearly a man, so there’s a re­ally in­ter­est­ing space of sen­su­al­ity, and it’s about the mother and the womb as a fe­male space. Also, the cam­era goes closer and closer in, so you’re in the womb with him.”

In their process, both An­toni and Petro­nio tried to blur the lines be­tween their re­spec­tive ar­eas of ex­per­tise. He let her into the chore­o­graphic process with the dancer, and she worked closely with Petro­nio on the more sculp­tural as­pects of the piece. “I was re­ally into the idea that we could get some­thing that Stephen can’t usu­ally work with on the prosce­nium stage, which was the level of de­tail and also the slow­ness that hap­pens in the video,” the artist said.

“What’s beau­ti­ful about this story,” Petro­nio said, “is that I’ve been col­lab­o­rat­ing for many years, and Ja­nine is the first per­son to in­vite me into her world. So we de­signed the ves­sel to­gether, and we fig­ured out the en­tire film to­gether, and we moved the baby to­gether. What was also re­ally ex­cit­ing is that hav­ing the cam­era that close to the sub­ject al­lowed me to work at a much more mi­cro­scopic level. Usu­ally I try to ex­ag­ger­ate things for the stage, and this was kind of the op­po­site process.”

Since Honey Baby, the two have been col­lab­o­rat­ing and do­ing some role-switch­ing, in sculp­ture and per­for­mance. They are cur­rently work­ing with dance and chore­og­ra­phy pi­o­neer Anna Hal­prin on a piece for the Fab­ric Work­shop Mu­seum in Philadelphia. “Anna wrote a piece for Stephen and I and another piece for me. The re­sult will be a per­for­mance, sculp­ture, a book, and a doc­u­men­tary. It’s a mon­ster,” An­toni laughed.

Ja­nine An­toni and Stephen Petro­nio: Honey Baby, 2013, video (stills); per­former: Nick Scis­cione, videog­ra­pher: Kirsten John­son, com­poser: Tom Lau­rie © Ja­nine An­toni and Stephen Petro­nio; cour­tesy the artists and Luhring Augustine, New York.

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