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Zenon, MDT offer two very different shows

Orpheus and Euridice
Photo by Tim Boatman
A scene from “Orpheus and Euridice,” a collaboration between Minnesota Dance Theater and Nautilus Music-Theater.

Two stalwart Minneapolis dance troupes — Zenon Dance Company and Minnesota Dance Theatre — are continuing their spring performances this weekend, and their shows couldn’t be more different. Both are worth checking out, however. Here’s a primer on what to expect.

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The modern, jazz and post-modern repertory troupe Zenon Dance Company finishes its 25th-anniversary spring season this weekend, with final performances by company member Christine Maginnis, who’s been with the troupe since its inception. (Reportedly, she’ll be back in guest-artist roles). This weekend she’s showcased in an intimate duet with Stephen Schroeder (nudity alert), “Mysteriously, This Won’t Happen,” by Argentine choreographer Susan Tambutti.

In New York choreographer Jeanine Durning’s new postmodern piece, “Where are these days, again?” which I found intensely disconcerting in its treatment of Zenon’s fine women dancers, Maginnis does one of her hyperathletic, disturbingly comic turns. It’s a work long on theatrics, and short on content. The dancers act more than dance, and rather than interacting with each other they’re more concerned with their nonsensical spoken text, a metronome and a microphone. Nonetheless, like Maginnis, they perform the work with Zenon’s signature commitment and integrity.

Lush, circular flow in ‘Garden’
In Wynn Fricke’s full-company work “Garden,” Maginnis revels in the delicious flow of the choreographer’s lush, circular movement. In November of last year, Maginnis told me, in an email, that “Once I get over feeling slightly freakish about being the last survivor since the company’s inception, I’m really quite proud to have come this far … and am elated that I still have the means of dance at such a demanding level.”

“I never wanted to move to New York,” she added, a career move that’s considered de rigueur for any dance professional and which Zenon — because of [artistic director Linda] Andrews’ rigorous expectations for her dancers and the eclectic repertory she’s brought to Minneapolis — has made such an experience relatively unnecessary.

“So I always felt very lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and to stay in Minneapolis where dance has grown exponentially in the past two decades. Zenon happened to be a big part of that growth by bringing in nationally and internationally acclaimed choreographers. The bottom line for me is that I love, love, love to perform and have been lucky to have had a stable home-base to develop my art form.”

Another dance highlight this weekend is a new production of “Orpheus and Euridice,” a collaboration between Minnesota Dance Theater and Nautilus Music-Theater. MDT, a contemporary ballet company created in 1962 by the late Loyce Houlton, is always up to something new. This weekend the troupe’s integration of music and dance continues on stage.

Norah Long is captivating
The opening-night performance last Thursday was a tad stilted and under-rehearsed on the part of the dancers. The star of the performance was vocalist Norah Long, who often moved with the dancers as she sang and gave composer Ricky Ian Gordon’s score a captivating embodiment (through her facial and bodily expressions) and a sweet, then searing treatment through her spectacular voice.

In contrast, the movement was lovely, lilting and somewhat expressive: pitched to the tone of careful and tender, it became monotonous to watch. After the opening performance, Gordon reported to me, via email, that the dancers have improved. “By their opening night, it was almost as if it were the first time they were putting the piece together!” he wrote. “It took doing it once for them to understand, and I mean ESPECIALLY the dancers, the story they were telling.

“For example, when they all enter the ‘house’ during the section which is called ‘home,’ understanding their role as visitors and playing parts, they were suddenly HEARING the text and responding accordingly. The second night, when Euridice [Melanie Verna] was placed on a platform, and Orpheus [Samuel Feipel] had his solo during ‘Song,’ they both started to cry. That was my intention, in terms of Act 1 being about ‘The birth of love’… it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.”

Such enthusiasm almost makes me want to see the performance again. But on the other hand, MDT and Nautilus should know that they need to have their act together by opening night. Maybe it’s time for dance companies to have preview runs, although I’m sure that’s financially prohibitive.

Then again, Zenon opened its run last weekend with a flawless, artful, engaged, stylistically diverse performance. After 25 years, Zenon is still setting the bar for dance in the Twin Cities.

Who: Zenon Dance Company
When: 8 p.m. Thu-Sat, 7 p.m. Sun
Where: Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Av. S., Mpls.
Tickets: $25, 612-340-1725 or online

Who: Minnesota Dance Theater
When: 8 p.m., Fri-Sat, 2 p.m., Sun
Where: Pantages Theatre, 710 Hennepin Ave., Mpls.
Tickets: $29.50; 612-673-0404 or online 

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