Zenon Dance Company launched its 27th season at the Ritz Theater on Friday, a characteristic mix of repertory and new commissions. Because one of the pieces is a jazz dance and another is set to music by Jelloslave, my editor at MinnPost thought I should go. I invited Ben Johnson, curator of dance for Northrop, and we talked afterwards about the performance.
Johnson recently returned to the Twin Cities after several years in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he was director of education and audience development with the University Musical Society, a not-for-profit organization affiliated with the University of Michigan.
MinnPost: Your overall impression?
Ben Johnson: A really, really good dance concert. But a bit of a small space. The full-ensemble pieces might have been better in a larger space. I like the movement to breathe on stage.
MP: I liked the intimacy of the space. But I’ve seen enough dance at Northrop to appreciate the possibilities of a humungous stage. What did you think of the company?
BJ: It was my first time seeing them in 18 years. Everyone looked really strong and strikingly beautiful. They had already performed a whole show earlier that day, for kids. Dancers don’t like performing twice in one day, but they were really committed.
MP: All of the dancers are beautiful to watch and to look at, even close-up in the lobby after the show. Not to be shallow, but that doesn’t hurt.
BJ: It certainly doesn’t.
MP: Let’s talk about the individual pieces. There are six in the program, divided by an intermission. Two are repertory works and three are world premieres. To start, “The Laws of Falling Bodies,” a world premiere choreographed by Sydney Skybetter.
BJ: A large ensemble piece with lots of different groupings, shapings, multilayered rhythms and different kinds of dance. For me, that whole piece was about connectedness. Moody, evocative, abstract. Beautiful duets.
MP: I saw a lot of falling and catching and lifting up. The music — by Jonny Greenwood, who wrote the terrifying soundtrack to the movie “There Will Be Blood” — seemed to fit perfectly. So did Jelloslave’s music for the second piece on the program, “Filament,” another world premiere.
BJ: A solo by Tamara Ober. It felt like the next chapter of the first piece. Solo work is really hard. You have to give credit to Tamara, one of the best dancers in the Twin Cities. She has a very poetic body, and her movements are very nuanced. As I watched that piece, I thought of someone emerging from a pile of wreckage, going from childhood to adulthood, then returning. [In “Filament,” Ober comes out of a tree-shaped metal sculpture and starts dancing in silence and near-darkness, before the music begins.]
MP: On to “Not from Texas,” with music by Lyle Lovett. We heard three of his songs: “Long Tall Texan,” “That’s No Lady, That’s My Wife,” and “That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas).” Droll, dry, witty stuff.
BJ: A good ol’ crowd pleaser. Nothing too choreographically interesting, but a lot of character. I almost felt I was watching commedia dell’arte through the lens of a Western. A completely different direction from the first two pieces.
MP: It was a little too hee-haw for me.
BJ: I can see that — the cowboy hats and faux cowboy tutu costumes, the chicken-head moves. But the dancers wanted the audience to be engaged, and they succeeded.
MP: After the intermission, the night’s third world premiere, “Here, now that you are gone. …” This was the big jazz dance piece, with music by Charlie Byrd, Toots Thielemans and Stephane Grappelli. And it has a story — a man looks back on his life with a woman, then must decide to stay in the past or move on. I appreciate a dance with a story because I don’t know a lot about dance. A story helps me to make sense out of what I’m seeing.
BJ: A lot of people feel that way. But often dance is just about movement.
MP: I thought this dance was lovely to look at, but empty. I knew the story but didn’t care what the man decided.
BJ: The opening duet between Mary Ann Bradley and Gregory Waletski was gorgeous. The second and third parts seemed kind of like the same thing. I lost interest by the end. There was lots of mirroring, and they were too far toward the back of the stage. The second part was lost in the shadows.
MP: By the way, I couldn’t help but notice — none of the dancers have tattoos, at least none that are visible. Is dance the final frontier of tattoodom?
BJ: That is kind of strange in Minnesota, where a lot of people have tattoos. But if you tried out for a role in “Swan Lake” with tattoos, you wouldn’t get the job.
MP: For the final piece, “Booba” [“doll” in Hebrew], I understand we only saw part of the dance — two movements out of four? Great music by Balkan Beat Box.
BJ: That’s interesting. I thought it felt incomplete. That dance was one of the reasons I wanted to see the show. Andrea Miller is one of the hottest emerging choreographers in the country. “Booba” is full of highly physicalized energy, lots of ensemble work, and opportunities for each dancer to showcase what they can do. Bryan Godbout spun his brains out.
Andrea Miller will be a big deal. [Zenon artistic director] Linda Andrews has a good eye for rising choreographers.
MP: Final words?
BJ: This season is a good entry point to Zenon. It shows their range, and the company is very generous to the audience. They want us to be there and have a good time, and we do.
Zenon Dance Company’s 27th Fall Concert Season continues this weekend with three more performances: Friday, Nov. 27, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 28, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 29, at 7 p.m. The Ritz is at 345 13th Ave. NE in Minneapolis. Tickets $28/$15 student rush/$26 seniors. Tickets here or call 612-436-1129. Free parking.