Stephen Petronio Company, "Like Lazarus Did" Pictured L-R: Joshua Tuason, Joshua Green, Nick Sciscione Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Finding your path: One dancer’s journey from competition to post-modern dance

A dancer’s life is a journey with endless surprises. You’re on a road – but you don’t know where it will lead.

Ask Joshua Green. A lanky, sandy-haired 25-year-old with an endearing, goofy sense of humor, he started out as a competition dancer in Minnesota, dreaming of working in commercials or music videos. Now, he’s a dancer with Stephen Petronio’s group, one of the hippest post-modern companies in New York, and will be part of its 30th anniversary season next month at The Joyce Theater.

Joshua Green, Stephen Petronio Company
Photo by Sarah Silver

How Green got started was straight out of a musical. His sister was taking dance class at a local school in suburban Minneapolis, and he would mimic her, learn her routines. As they said in “A Chorus Line,” “I can do that!” By age 5 he was in class and recitals. His first performance was a dance to “Rhinestone Cowboy,” faux-cowhide pants and all. Green had found his passion. He loved moving and dancing, but like almost any boy studying dance in the U.S., he had to deal with being teased. “There were comments and I was uncomfortable,” he explained, “but it only kept me out of class for two weeks.”

The next step was also a familiar story. After a few years, one of the school’s teachers took his parents aside, told them their son had talent and that if he wanted to dance, he needed to get more serious training. “We only knew about competition dance,” Green says, but he ended up at the Larkin Dance Studio, which combined a competitive atmosphere with serious training. He rehearsed and took class daily, including ballet four to five days weekly.

“It was almost a conservatory in its own way. My ballet teacher was a crazy Russian guy, Ilia Gorev, who would give classes that made us cry. He’d put on a pop song and make us do ronds de jambe en l’air for the whole song. It was terrifying to go into class, but it felt so good to work that hard, and you’d see the improvement.”

Stephen Petronio Company “Like Lazarus Did (LLD 4/30)” (World Premiere) The Joyce Theater New York, N.Y. April 30, 2013 Photo Credit: Julieta Cervantes

As makes sense for younger dancers, Gorev taught mostly via repetition rather than explanation. His classes were also tailored for a competition school rather than a conservatory. More strength and turns, higher jumps, flashier moves. But as Green explains, “There was a value in just forcing yourself. What I learned was commitment and dedication to what you do, and to watch others and be constantly inspired.”
His performance experience was competition numbers, which were, as he put it, “professional lite,” with incredible costumes. “There was an Elvis suit and wig – jewels and pompadours!” he laughs, recalling one of the most outlandish.

As Green approached the end of high school, he realized he didn’t want to move to New York or Los Angeles and attempt to find a job. “I had seen people try and it didn’t work out. “ He opted to go to New York, but to a college dance program, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Josh Green, competition dancer, was about to meet Josh Green, modern dancer. The introduction wasn’t pretty. “I was frustrated. I came from a nationally known competition studio, and I felt like I knew a lot. But I didn’t know what I was getting into as much as some other students.  I had to open myself up and look at things differently.”

Green looked at the sort of dance he would later love as “granola modern”: aimless rolling around on the floor. “This is warming up?” he would ask. “I was used to a warm up being isolations to pop music and thought the only way to dance was full out.”

The breakthrough came when his teachers began discussing anatomy. In high school, he was fascinated by biology and anatomy, “but I never connected them to dance. I didn’t understand until NYU how they could go together.” He became exposed to Petronio’s work through teachers at NYU, and then from a master class given by Petronio. “I was an awful mess from the changing directions. In competition dance you always knew where front was – the audience. Petronio’s work faces everywhere. That was something brand new. I loved the choreography, the whipping and slashing in space, the abandon but control of it. I’m attracted to its virtuosity; it takes ballet forms and twists them into knots and pretzels.”

After he took a summer workshop in 2010, Petronio asked him to be a company apprentice, but the boy who was a competition dancer wasn’t left behind. “It was a good marriage of where I was and where I was going. I could use my technique, but in a three-dimensional way.” And so, Green, who wasn’t born when Stephen Petronio formed his company, will help celebrate the 30th anniversary season.  Petronio is reviving 1999’s “Strange Attractors (Part I),” creating a new solo for himself and a group piece, “Locomotor.” The new work takes the idea of retrospective to heart – some of the choreography comes from older works. “The dancers are digging in the archives and finding material they love. Everyone’s been grabbing DVDs and taking them home.” Green reports. Beyond that, the new material moves backwards – literally. “You’re afraid you’re going to fall or run into people. I’ve been stepping on toes; we’re getting way better about warning people when we’re coming.” Green admits with a grin. What would competition dancer Josh have thought, would he like it? “Yes-ish” Green says, smiling. “It would still look like dance; it would still look challenging.”

For Green, no matter what path he took, one thing never changed. “Dancing makes me ecstatic. That feeling all over your body of ecstatic joy – it just feels right.  I’m always chasing that.”

By Leigh Witchell

Published in Dance for You Magazine spring issue 59/2013