This is my world: On Zenon Dance Company’s 2009 fall season


It was hard to get to Zenon’s Fall show at The Ritz. During their opening weekend I was attending the Dance/USA Board of Trustees meetings in Washington, DC. Friday night of their closing weekend I had a tech rehearsal for the Continental Ballet Nutcracker, and Saturday night I went to the Choreographers’ Evening at The Walker, a one-time option.

So on Sunday I performed in Continental’s Nut at 3:00pm then hammered up the highway to Nordeast. The audience included Joanie Smith of Shapiro and Smith Dance company and the University of Minnesota Dance Department. We’ve known each other by name and from afar for many years, but I’ve never really just plain talked with her. For some reason I always used to talk with Daniel, and of course he’s gone now.  So I walked up to Joanie, introduced myself (perhaps redundantly) and chatted about dance, her company, and so forth for ten minutes. It did my soul good.

Zenon’s opening work was “The Laws of Falling Bodies,” choreographed by Sidney Skybetter with the performers. There were several distinct sections, each with its own structure. Among the seven performers there could always be several duets and always one trio or one loner. That was the first section. Another section involved the whole ensemble linked by holding hands or by other means. In each case you saw, clearly, how it was put together. I like choreography that shows and even teaches its own construction.

Throughout I saw many lifts that (deliberately) “didn’t work.” One dancer would hoist another overhead, but the one overhead was drooped like a wilting flower. Or two dancers would hoist a third and then the lift would systematically collapse floorward. It became for me a powerful metaphor saying something about America’s craving for someone to support us but none of it working.

Emilie Plauche Flink’s “Filament” featured an elaborate sculpture by Annie Katsura Rollins in which the dancer was actually enfolded at the start. I wish I had more time and energy to think about and write about this piece. It was gorgeously danced by Mary Ann Bradley, a local treasure. The music by JelloSlave was as always fresh and interesting. The choreography was deeply intelligent.

But it didn’t quite work for me. Two thirds through the piece I watched a long dance phrase of great beauty and superb execution, but my response was puzzlement. I think there’s a long conversation to be had here. It should be discussed both within the field and with audiences of many kinds. Some of that conversation flared to life this week on the Walker Art Center blog concerning the recent Choreographers’ Evening.

How much do I need to understand it? How much does anyone need to understand it? In this case I did not understand why the dancer was in the sculpture, why she left, why she did what she did separate from the structure, and why she went back to it. Clearly, something well thought-out and careful had been designed, but it went by me. So I survived the piece, with respect, but was not uplifted and moved.

Now my point. At least two pieces on the Choreographers’ Evening left me similarly puzzled, but I didn’t mind and I didn’t care. I took those two pieces at face value and absorbed them as intuitive and kinesthetic experiences. The Flink piece, however, didn’t achieve the intuitive and kinesthetic connection. Is it me? Is it the choreographer? Why do two make a connection for me and one disconnects? To me, after watching a gazillion dances over about 45 years, I am still puzzled by this seeming paradox. I think it deserves long, deep and broad conversation.

“Not From Texas,” choreographed by Megan McClellan and Brian Sostek, is a hit from the repertoire and a total hoot. There is a place in the world for dance that merely means to be just its own rageous or outrageous self.

The duet for Mary Ann Bradley and Greg Waletski, choreographed by Judith James Ries, formerly of The Danny Buraczeski JAZZDANCE Company, is a pocket-sized masterpiece. A program note says that it was commissioned and created specifically for those two. This is one of the eternal challenges of Modern or Contemporary dance, perhaps of dance in general. How do you transfer this work to other dancers?

This is a topic that contributes to my love of dance. The answer is that you can’t transfer to other dancers through teaching the steps, showing a video, or other forms of commodification. You have to transfer it from one living human being to another, else the nuance, the humanity, the dancing itself is in danger of being lost or corrupted. Here we have an original work on two specific dancers of international caliber, and they utterly own it. I pray that when it passes to other dancers, as it should because it is superb work, it passes with Greg, Mary Ann, the choreographer, or at least two of the three coaching the transfer.

“Booba,” by Brooklyn choreographer Andrea Miller, is cute fun.

I want to go back to Sidney Skybetter and the opening piece.  Along with Judith Ries’ duet this was the other masterpiece on the program. I have known Sidney for about 18 to 24 months from his role on the Dance/USA Board of Trustees. He is an interesting person and should be watched. Aside from his skill as a choreographer he is a first class expert (and paid consultant) in the realm of digital technology, internet interaction, and new ways of publicizing, communicating and showing dance in 2009. He is one of Dance/USA’s newly assembled national convocation called “Emerging Leaders.” I don’t know his age but I bet he’s under 35.

“Emerging Leaders” in the Twin Cities include Katherine Dunbar, Managing Director at Zenon; Mathew Janczewski of ARENA Dance; Kate Nordstrom at The Southern Theater; Aparna Ramaswamy at Ragamala Music and Dance; Karen Sherman, independent choreographer/dancer; and Sarah Thompson, formerly of The Shubert Project and now Director of External Affairs for Northrop.

Let me make another point. There are only 32 members of the “Emerging Leaders” task force. Six are from Minnesota. Nine are from New York City (well of course) and eight are from California (yeah, them too) but from a scattering of communities. LA, San Francisco, etc. The Twin Cities come in third as a state and second as a metropolitan area.  The remaining nine “Emerging Leaders” are scattered among Washington DC, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and others.

In other words, this is one more item in an endless stream of hard, credible evidence indicating that the Twin Cities are one of the five or six most significant dance communities in the nation. If only the general public knew it and came to shows in greater numbers. If only the media, the Chamber of Commerce, and the decision makers knew it. But no. that’s not the case and I don’t know what can change it. People can do whatever they damn well please, after all.