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Lord of the DANCE; Master choreographer Stephen Petronio has teamed-up with musician Rufus Wainwright for his new dance piece, Bloom. Mike Smith caught a performance in London.

GOLDEN boots are usually reserved for outstanding athletes, and even then they are basically a marketing gimmick dreamed up by promoters and footwear suppliers.

But if Stephen Petronio wears his golden shoes at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff tonight - just like he did after his company's London performances - it is because he has done the footwork. Literally.

Welsh dance lovers will best know the work of the man with gilded feet thanks to our national dance company, Diversions. The Cardiff-based company is touring his work, Strange Attractors, across Wales and into England and has just performed the piece to audiences in Bilbao.

It was, of course, Diversions who first performed a Petronio work on the WMC stage last spring.

I caught up with the Stephen Petronio Company at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall before the dancers embarked on their UK tour, which arrives in Wales this weekend. It was fascinating to see not only his most recent works but also the performances by his dancers.

The centrepiece of the programme is Bloom, set to semi-sacred music by Rufus Wainwright and the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. It's sung by a live choir, with Wainwright's contribution recorded.

While London also got newer pieces - which featured music by Antony Hegarty, of Antony and the Johnsons, Lou Reed and Petronio's latest art-love Nico Muhly - the choice of works for the UK tour gives a broader feel for the choreographer's 25 years of dance innovation.

When the company arrives in Cardiff tonight, prior to Bloom the dancers will perform Bud Suite, which is also set to music by Wainwright.

Petronio loves pop music and visual art, so this latest project with Wainwright follows other high-profile collaborations, including Laurie Anderson and Michael Nyman. The Strange Attractors opening piece, Prelude, features the music of Placebo with vocals by David Bowie.

The juxtaposition of Wainwright's warm, sexual and sensual sounds with the innocence of a children's choir might seem slightly weird, but it works fabulously. It is a full choral work that can stand alone.

The piece opens with the choir at the front of the stage, humming as they then walk through the auditorium, leaving the soft music disappearing behind you.

It is a sacred sound in a heart-warming piece. As the lights fall the breathy, incomparable sound of Wainwright's singing fills the air.

The dance is a combination of Petronio's distinctive dance vocabulary and rich classical movement.

The dancers spin, jete and develop a work that is more cool, controlled and symmetrical than we might expect from Petronio.

The piece moves into an exploration of duets, sometimes in full light, sometimes in silhouette against a simple backdrop. The choir comes back in with its gentle, religious, calming sound.

The striking male dancers work in a pair followed by the girls framing exquisite solos, all working towards a rushing climax that leaves the audience breathless and exploding into applause.

The purity of sound is reflected in the classical dance movements, the richness of symmetry, sheer beauty and grace.

The costumes, another Petronio vital ingredient, are gentle with the men in grey briefs and tailored shirts with ruffles while the girls are in classic Empire-line shift dresses.

The rest of the programme, Lareigne, is set to The Strangler's No More Heroes. Yes, Petronio loves pop.

This programme reflects something of Petronio's changing style which is now more accepting of the notion that there is nothing wrong with narrative.

But even when he was mainly interested in form he would introduce a work with a piece of music that would give some sort of indicator.

One thing is certain. Bloom is gripping, vibrant, spellbinding. Together with the luscious theatricality and youthful innocence of Wainwright's score, this produces a glorious evening of sound.

And of movement vocabulary. The dance and dancers are finely-drawn, visceral and fluid. It feels as if they're communicating with you alone, despite the sea of audience members.

He has a clear understanding of why he choreographs, why he communicates through dance. "It is the need to bring you into a realm that you don't experience often when you're walking down the street worrying about the state of the economy, how the movement of a leg can have a kinetic reaction in the brain," he says.

"Also, and I think is the guiding principle of 21st century art, it's the awareness that you have a different experience to the person sitting next to you, they look one way, you look another way."

Yes music is crucial but it is the dance that is at the heart of his work.

He says: "I love dance without music because it strips it down."

So will the golden boy with the golden shoes ever take to the performing stage again himself?

"I am in my first retirement," he mysteriously quips.

Stephen Petronio Company is at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff tonight and tomorrow . The box office number is 0870 040 2000


Amanda Wells and Michael Badger who will perform Stephen Petronio's Bloom at the WMC; Stephen Petronio's Quartet who will be performing the Bud Suite at the WMC
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 17, 2008
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