DANCE | Zenon Dance Company’s fleet feet captivate at the Cowles Center

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No one could blame Zenon Dance Company director Linda Andrews for wanting a drink on Friday night: when the executive director of the venue you consider your “new home” abruptly resigns the week before you make your full-length debut at the venue, it’s not an ideal situation.

There’s also been concern that the shiny new Cowles Center would lack the sense of community that used to be found at the Southern Theater when that venue was the Twin Cities’ dance hub, but it felt like we were right back at the Southern last night as Andrews emerged from behind the curtain in a sequined gown, offering a chatty introduction to Zenon’s 2011 fall season (confusingly, each Zenon “season” is staged in a single program) and topping it off with the cheesy touch of summoning choreographer Mariusz Olszewski onstage to deliver a pink Martini.

When the curtain rose, though, it was all joking aside as Zenon’s crack troupe literally tumbled into Daniel Charon’s absorbing new piece Storm, set to turbulent music by Michael Nyman. A preview of Storm was the highlight of the Cowles’ Center opening gala, and though the latter movements aren’t as compelling or distinctive as the first—which was previewed at the gala—it’s one of my favorite new dances I’ve seen in Minneapolis since starting on the local arts beat four years ago. As the dancers fall into and out of each others’ arms to the strains of Nyman’s pulsing pop minimalism, they channel deep emotion in their high-speed collisions. It’s a wowzer.

Pink Martini, on the other hand—a new composition by Olszewski—is sheer fun, a high-energy tribute to the cha-cha, the mambo, and other forms of social dance. Even for those who think they’ve been So You Think You Can Danced out, this is a virtuosic treat.

The program’s second half begins with Morgan Thorson’s ironic, thorny Deluxe Edition, which I saw in rehearsal before its premiere last year. After the sincere stylings of Charon and Olszewski, Thorson’s piece is jarring: though it begins on a seemingly humorous note, with Gregory Waletski flexing his almost alarmingly well-developed muscles at the edge of the stage to the strains of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” the piece quickly turns nightmarish as the dancers’ movements become repetitive and pained, following rhythms that are at odds with the Christopher Cross nuggets to which portions of the piece are scored. It’s a bitter pill, but one that will stay with you.

The program concludes with Danny Buraczeski’s 1993 Swing Concerto, which draws parallels between klezmer and swing. The comparison is historically apt—as the program notes, “[Artie] Shaw and [Benny] Goodman, both Jewish, both clarinetists, hired many Eastern European emigrants to play in their orchestras”—but onstage, especially following Thorson’s acid splash, it seems a bit goofy. Well, what the hell. Mariusz! Where’s my Martini?

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