Enter The Petronio Matrix

I’m very excited to announce the official launch of Petron.io, the new website for Stephen Petronio Company or, as I like to think of it, the digital of hub of the Petronio matrix.


Abby Browde and I made it. We think it is pretty awesome. [BTW – Petronio’s 30th anniversary season is April 8 – 13 at The Joyce!]

Back in October the Petronio office called me and asked for recommendations for a web developer and some advice on digital strategy. They had gotten a Dance/USA Engaging Dance Audiences grant (Thank you Doris Duke Charitable Foundation!) to have Blake Martin shoot some “behind the scenes” videos like this one:

And then build a separate section of their existing site to let people comment on the videos.

I looked at what they were proposing and said, “You know what? I’ve got some ideas, let me pull them together and get back to you.”

Back in 2012 I saw Stephen’s season at The Joyce where he performed Steve Paxton’s Intravenous Lecture. In it, he described the transformational moment when he studied with Paxton at Hampshire College and he started to think about dance, and the body, existing in 360 degrees, with a flexible spine. This video from TEDMED gives a sense of it:

Intellectually I understood this conceptual pivot in dance history, but it was only when Stephen embodied and demonstrated it that the light bulb went off in my head.

Not long after, I was fortunate enough to work with Stephen to bring a site specific version of LLD to The River To River Festival. It was an amazing experience to be in conversation with him, to see how his mind worked, to see how he thinks about bodies in space and time, to hear his reflections on his astonishingly successful 30 year career as a choreographer and the leader of his own company.

We talked a lot about what it meant to be at a certain stage of your life as an artist, and as a human being, what it meant to be making dances, what it meant in a spiritual, soulful way, as a way of being in the world. After our conversations I found myself thinking about all of the story lines, legacies and intersections that inform our creative lives, the tendrils and transmitters that link our past, present and future.

I emailed the Petronio offices with a digital strategy and web development proposal saying, “What if we made a digital hub that embodied the experience of being a part of Stephen’s world? What if it were easier to see the matrix of fabulous, creative, imaginative, awesome people that are attracted into Stephen’s orbit? What if we could make a website that pulled all the various connections together and was a digital expression of the 360 degree awareness that is implicit in Stephen’s choreography? How do we integrate the conceptual, the physical and the social?”

At the time I explained it more fully in words, but later I drew this map to help people visualize networked thinking as opposed to linear thinking:Petronio_Social_Network_Map

I had just attended a supercool start-up unconference and had noticed some people using the “.io” domain name and I was like “Petron.io“!! This really helped pull the concept together and reinforce the idea that a website is not a “destination” for one-way interactions but the hub of a social matrix with many, multidirectional interactions.

This is all related to the ideas that I described in my presentation at The Jerome Robbins Foundation’s Lasky Forum in 2013:

I emailed Abby and asked if she was up for a cool project.

I started the process by taking apart the old site architecture and reimagining it, creating a new, streamlined and more cogently organized information structure that would also lead to a better User Experience.

We worked with the Petronio office on mood boards and Abby went off to develop visual concepts based on those. We soon realized that this was really as much about working with Stephen to reimagine “the brand” as it was about web development, and since the concept for the site was so inspired by my conversations with Stephen, it became a truly co-creative process with the whole team.

Abby came back with a bunch of strong concepts, each one pointing to a different set of possibilities, and after a totally fun process (shout out to Yvan & Ariel!) and a bunch of revisions and changes and experiments, we landed on a visual look that everyone really liked.

Abby did a bunch of research into various WordPress themes that could support the functionality and visual identity we planned to implement. I researched the back end to find out what we needed to build or install to power the functionality, to make it scalable with not too much quirky customization.

Then we set about mapping the social matrix and figuring out how to integrate it into the site, not just some kind of “engagement” add-on, tacked on to the side, but deeply embedded in the architecture – just like in real life.

We worked on building links both within the hub (between dancers, collaborators and specific works) and outside into the matrix – each dancer’s page has links to their social media presence (with their permission!).

We built a blog and integrated Facebook commenting so any discussions on the blog also appear on Facebook. We found a way to embed short edits of Blake’s videos right in the homepage so that it is dynamic and engaging.

In this way Blake’s videos serve to “prime the pump” of conversation as we open up the world behind the work and let people get to know Stephen, the dancers, the collaborators and each other, engaging in ongoing conversations before, during and after the shows.

We riffed on “io” to create the “input/output” section where all the social media streams come together. So not only does the official Petronio Company social media content flow into this space, so does any social media that is tagged “#stephenpetronio” or “#petronioco” (We tried #petronio” but got a bunch of weird spam from Italy!).

We hope you will check it out and play with it. We feel like it is a good start at imagining the Petronio Matrix and the more people play with it and use it, the better we will see what a more robust, next-generation iteration of the idea might look like.

We’re really psyched and grateful to have had a chance to collaborate, in our own way, with Stephen. Abby and I did this on our own, on a tight timeline and with the usual non-profit budgetary constraints. We look forward to applying our creativity to bigger projects and helping more artists, organizations and creative people of all stripes connect the dots.

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