Zenon Dance Company
Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts
November 18–27, 2011
Performance reviewed: Nov. 18
A repertory company known for its eclectic, electric vibe, Zenon bills itself as the troupe that can do it all. On opening night the hard-working dancers ran a triathlon and then some, performing four stylistically diverse works in bare feet (modern), high heels (ballroom), shoes (jazz), and knee socks (postmodern).
Daniel Charon’s Storm starts the evening off with dancers tearing across the stage to Michael Nyman’s turgid music. They face off, move en masse in syncopated walking and running patterns, yank each other around while taking air swipes at one other. Sometimes they seem to be simultaneously dancing the dream ballet and the prologue from West Side Story: “There’s a place for us” yearning meets a-rumble-is-brewing menace, as urgent athleticism is grafted onto sweeping modern dance moves. While there’s some intricate patterning and supple group dynamics, Storm never quite finds the form to contain its hyperactive histrionics.
In Morgan Thorson’s Deluxe Edition, eight dancers in sawed-off neon-colored unitards (legless and sleeveless) and white knee socks pose and posture like models, celebrities, tough guys. Their affectless performing personas and disconnected phrases are familiar post-modern motifs, but nothing looks generically po-mo in this terrifically endearing collage. Slyly personable, the eight dancers stagger, strut, flirt, and fume. With herky-jerky cartoon-like animation they morph into weird configurations, like Plastic Man on a bender. There’s lots of mashing together of disparate elements: In one duet, Tristan Koepke and Scott Mettille slowly descend into splits, then cycle through a series of languid pin-up poses. They move knowingly, with the playfulness and juicy sensuality that enlivens this entire dance.
The sensuality in Pink Martini, by former Polish ballroom champ Mariusz Olszewski, is more in your face. Set to music by Rosemary Clooney and Pérez Parado, the piece references the Latin dance craze of the 1950s, with women in fabulous fringed dresses strategically draped to reveal various zones of flesh, and men in black suits and narrow ties. Mettille’s opening solo to Clooney’s aching “Sway” sets the tone, his roiling pelvis punctuated by spasms that erupt sequentially through a lean, mean torso. Later, four lounge lizards slither through Clooney’s “Bali H’ai,” giving it a powerful gay subtext that lends new meaning to the line “your own special dreams.” But ultimately Martini belongs to the women, whose voluptuous wit sparks a potpourri of cha-cha, mambo, salsa. Mary Ann Bradley explodes as a leggy vamp, while Tamara Ober’s twitchy persona is Lucille Ball by way of Carmen Miranda. Leslie O’Neill channels the edgy boldness of comedian Sarah Silverman, in contrast to Laura Selle’s buoyant sexiness. The entire cast delivers with an acute musicality that transforms ballroom dance into kinetic storytelling.
The program ended with a sizzling performance of Danny Buraczeski’s signature work Swing Concerto, a conflation of Jewish Klezmer music and folk dance traditions with swing dance and big band music. Its proud ethnic swagger and tightly controlled syncopations build to a wildly baroque finale (to Benny Goodman’s “Sing, Sing, Sing”) that had the audience bouncing in their seats.
Photos, top to bottom: Daniel Charon’s
Storm; Morgon Thorson’s Deluxe Edition. By Steve Niedorf, courtesy Zenon.