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Zenon Dance Company moves in many genres for 36th Fall Season

November 7, 2018

Zenon Dance Company is really showing off its range for the company’s 36th Fall Season. With a history grounded in modern and jazz dance, Zenon has evolved with the dance trends over its 36 years, partnering with a range of choreographers representing postmodern, contemporary and conceptual forms. No matter the style, the company’s dancers succeed at bringing the choreographer’s vision to life.

Opening weekend began with the one piece that won’t be repeated this weekend: the world premiere of “Set Zero” by New York choreographers Alex Springer and Xan Burley, created in collaboration with the Zenon company. The duet was danced by Leslie O’Neill and Sarah Steichen Stiles. It starts with a framework of choreography involving repetition and rhythmic, robotic movements. But from there, a lot is left to chance. The dancers seem to check in with each other, mirroring each other as if playing a game. There is a feeling of one-upmanship between the dancers, who genuinely seem to enjoy themselves.

Everything else on the program will be repeated this weekend. “Just Her Time” by Minnesota choreographer Wynn Fricke is an aching meditation on healing, birth, death and communal connection.

As the central figure in “Just Her Time,” Steichen Stiles delivers an exquisite performance filled with longing and anguish. A climactic moment comes when the dancer despairingly and repeatedly dunks her head in a barrel of water, inspiring audible gasps from the audience.

A chorus of movers surrounds the central character. They create gorgeous tableaux with their wide-legged plies and sweeping spirals, acting as witnesses to the central character’s painful journey.

Where Fricke’s piece is rich with narrative and emotion, New York choreographer Sam Kim’s “Procession” navigates form without the structure of a story line. The composer-in-residence’s postmodern conceptual work was presented on a curtain-less stage, with all the backstage rigging exposed.

The result is a fascinating exploration of shape and surprising moments, with a subtle soundscape by Sarah Register incorporating the noise of dancers slapping against gym mats and each other. The gym mats act as props while also providing cushions for tumbling artists. One jaw-dropping section features dancer Tristan Koepke flipping hips up from a lying position, hovering in the air, and plopping on the ground repeatedly. You may not know what the heck is going on, but the work is compelling nonetheless.

The evening concludes with Mariusz Olszewski’s crowd-pleasing “Pink Martini,” a Latin ballroom piece from 2011. It’s a testament to the company’s chops that they can quickly shift gears into the social dance sphere, offering a fast-paced and sexy final number.

Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis critic and arts journalist.

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