DANCE | Zenon Dance Company falls into fall


There’s nothing more riveting than watching someone almost fall onstage. It’s the ultimate gesture of risk-taking: a chicken fight that the performer has with him- or herself, a moment of reckless abandon, of complete vulnerability, followed by the landing, and a sigh of relief. And the people that do almost falling the best are the dancers at Zenon Dance Company.

To see what I’m talking about, just go on over to the Southern Theater this weekend and check out the company’s fall concert. Dancers almost fall again and again, in numerous different ways, and just when you think they couldn’t get any closer to actually falling, they do another breathtaking fall that leaves the entire audience aghast.

zenon dance company’s 2010 fall season, presented through november 28 at the southern theater. for tickets ($28-$30) and information, see

Obviously the choreographers have something to do with it, but I have to credit the dancers themselves, and artistic director Linda Andrews, because clearly this sense of risk-taking—physically, at least—is part of the company’s vocabulary.

Of course, conceptual risk-taking is another matter entirely, but even in that area I did feel that the four women choreographers—two from Latin America and two from North America—made some interesting choices, even if I was generally more impressed with the dancers’ performances than with the choreography.

In her introduction to the show on Thursday night, Andrews called the first piece—Like an Octopus, choreographed by Susana Tambutti—a deconstruction of the tango, but to me it was more of a take-off than a deconstruction. While the dancers—Tamara Ober and Gregory Waletski—didn’t perform a traditional tango, they were certainly dancing in rhythm to the tango music. I actually quite liked it; there was a platform from which there were many falls of the variety that I was just talking about. There was one instance where it almost looked like Ober was being hung by the neck from Waletski’s arms.

Like an Octopus was created in 1992, and it was bittersweet to see Jeff Bartlett’s lighting design.  Bartlett suffered a serious on-the-job accident in August, and is still in recovery. His lighting design for Like an Octopus shows what a brilliant designer he is—there’s a gorgeous spotlight coming straight down which illuminates the dancers in a stark silhouette, and his use of red side lights for the end of the piece is breathtaking.

I didn’t know what to think of the second piece, a world premiere called Structures of Feeling, choreographed by luciana achugar, who won a Bessie Award this year for her work Puro Deseo.  Andrews, in her intro, called the piece “raw” and told the audience about how the piece was about what we couldn’t verbalize. The dancers were dressed in odd, brightly-colored animal print tie-dye numbers designed by Clare Brauch, and sort of writhed about onstage like animals, stomping at points and being touchy-feely with each other in what looked to be a 1970s love fest more than anything. I guess it was maybe it was supposed to be saying something about our animalistic desires/tendencies. It certainly wasn’t boring, but I also wasn’t really moved by the performance.

The third piece, Picnic, Lightning, created in 2009, is based on a Billy Collins poem by the same title, which in turn is taken from Vladamir Nabakov’s Lolita, where Humpert Humpert describes the death of his mother in a very nonchalant way. The piece is filled with anachronistic juxtapositions—both in the music, which mixes AGF, Chopin, and Joy Division—and in the costumes, which are vintage. The choreography, too, mixed the mundane with the passionate—control with passion. As my friend who went with me to the show pointed out, choreographer Andrea Miller is a skilled editor, weaving the different parts together into a pleasing final product.

The last piece, Anatomy of a Viciously Sweet: A. Love, B. Lust, C. Life, D. All of the Above, a world premiere, is a lighthearted piece with a great original score performed live by John McGrew. Choreographer Colleen Thomas used a lot of props: hearts, crinkly material of some kind, and a giant set piece that looked like two flames had been cut out of it.  At times I thought the symbolism, such as when one of the dancers cut a red heart out of Waletski’s white shirt, was over the top, but in general I liked the sweetness of the piece, though I didn’t know exactly what Thomas was trying to say. I especially liked the image of the dozens of little pink hearts being thrown up into the air, dancing in the light as one of the dancers snipped at them with a scissors. 

As a whole, I found the evening to be engaging, and really the Zenon dancers (many of whom also dance for other companies in town) are enormously talented. I could watch them do anything, and be happy.