Stephen Petronio Company

'The Island of Misfit Toys', 'Broken Man', City of Twist'

by Lyndsey Winship

October 18, 2003
Queen Elizabeth Hall/London

If you want to fill the Queen Elizabeth Hall, bring in the big names. Choreographer Stephen Petronio guaranteed bums on seats thanks to a collaboration with artist Cindy Sherman and musical legend Lou Reed. Three artistic forces to be reckoned with, but would such a strong brew leave a bitter taste? In fact, rather than blowing away the senses, the world premiere of The Island of Misfit Toys made a rather weak impression.

From the imagination of our poet/dreamer Petronio, the cast of misfit toys spring forth. Slightly slutty girls in ill-fitting doll's dresses - ostracised from the toy box no doubt - dance with boys in patterned pyjamas. A fantasy from our choreographer's youth perhaps?

They spin through the poet's imagination, all swivel joints and scissor slices, without quite falling into that stiff mechanical toy parody. While the dancers are well-oiled there's not really anything very innovative going on here. It's a faceless world, made mostly of ensemble dancing without character or cameraderie.

In the artistic sphere it's inevitable that those who were once misfits ultimately become establishment, and this has been evident during the 25th anniversary celebrations at Dance Umbrella. The same goes for musicians like Lou Reed. Once an edgy outsider, now his songs are used on adverts for the BBC, and when the hits kick in we're on familiar territory. Nevertheless, excerpts from the grating Metal Machine Music and some spoken texts show that Reed isn't stuck in the past.

Cindy Sherman's contribution is a couple of overgrown mutant dolls and a backdrop of babies' faces, playing on that horror film subversion of the sweet into the sinister. Again, it's nothing new.

I preferred the final piece, City of Twist, made last year with another legendary composer, Laurie Anderson. Anderson's music is instrumental (excuse the pun) in creating this mournful, atmospheric cityscape. Our characters are loners, all connected by their attraction to the bright lights, but unlike the misfit toys, each is given a solo in the spotlight to lay out their own existence.

Again, the idea of the lonliness of urban life in hardly revelatory but it is effectively portrayed - the tension, the expectation, the anger, the glitter and the superficiality.

Dramatic lighting from Ken Tabachnick puts stars in the sky as our cast dance out the early hours on a New York rooftop then conjures up skyscrapers behind a lone woman in white. The beautiful despair of our tragic femme fatale is typical of Petronio's theatrical sensibilities. He also has a penchant for men in pants. While the girls get black glittery numbers, the men sport shiny thighs and bulging white briefs. It's an indulgent piece of dance making in many respects, but an evocative one nonetheless.

Edited by Stuart Sweeney

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