Survivor

How does Linda Andrews keep Zenon Dance Company going? A bit of disco instruction, a little pull-tab operation, and a lot of determination

Ozone, located in the Wyman Building, was also a center for experimentation with its wildly popular studio performances. "We would bring everyone to the Warehouse District," says Andrews. "We were one of the first [arts] organizations to develop down there. The performances would be standing-room-only. Things fell off the ceiling onto the audience but nobody cared. They just wanted to see what was going on. We even performed in the windows of the building so people would see us as they walked up. There was very little air in there!"

Wil Swanson, who began his career with Andrews and later performed with New Dance Ensemble before joining New York's Trisha Brown Company, laughs heartily over the telephone from Jersey City, New Jersey, as he recalls the scene. A duet set to punk rock earned him and his partner Francine Zerfas a trip to Dance Fever in Los Angeles. "I remember banging my body around," says Swanson. "It was really fun--considered but not cerebral."

 

"Our women are strong; they can lift the men": Zenon founder Linda Andrews
Richard Fleischman
"Our women are strong; they can lift the men": Zenon founder Linda Andrews

The influx of cash from classes and shows provided an opportunity for Andrews to start two companies: Rezone (modern dance) and Just Jazz. She started going to New York to see whom she could attract to work with her dancers. "There were very few good choreographers in Minnesota at the time," explains Andrews. "I went outside to pull the level up." When the Walker Art Center brought Bill T. Jones to town in 1982, Andrews asked him to create a work. He readily agreed. A former drummer for the band Weather Report who had become a prison guard at Stillwater created an original score. Rehearsals were trippy, driven by rhythms enhanced with a little weed, not to mention Jones's developing stardom. One day, when Jones was in St. Cloud and forgot his rehearsal time with the troupe, Andrews piled everybody into cars and drove up to find him. She did. He rehearsed.

Such chutzpah explains Zenon's staying power. That, and some gambling. Andrews used to run a pull-tab operation at the Little Wagon bar in downtown Minneapolis. "It was a real clash of cultures," she smiles. "The patrons wanted to support the VFW but my husband held the lease and made them choose us. Those were the days when the squirrels would run across the floor of our studio on Fifth Avenue. I remember Cindy Gehrig from the Jerome Foundation saying, 'Linda, you can't do that!' and I said, 'Then give me some money!'" She did. Jerome is now a steady Zenon funder.

In the spring of 1983 Andrews merged her two companies to create Zenon. "People said we couldn't combine jazz and modern," she says. "But we got a standing ovation at our first concert." To create work for the dancers, she enlisted such New York choreographers as Bebe Miller, Mark Dendy, Victoria Marks, and Stephanie Skura, as well as Joe Goode from San Francisco and Llory Wilson from Seattle. Danny Buraczeski of JAZZDANCE acted as artistic co-director and resident jazz choreographer when he merged his company with Zenon from 1989 to 1992. Today local collaborators include Myron Johnson, Robin Stiehm, and Wynn Fricke. Ever mindful of Zenon's standards, when Andrews contracts with artists, she retains the right to refuse to show the piece if the collaboration doesn't mesh. More often than not, the work is performed. (Andrews continues to receive several résumés a week from choreographers interested in working with Zenon; her wish list includes Mark Morris, Paul Taylor, and William Forsythe.)

In the years since Zenon's founding, Andrews has attracted high-quality dancers to her roster and has retained many, largely because the company's repertory format guarantees that no one style predominates. According to Greg Waletski, an 11-year veteran, "If you're not into what's going on at the moment, there's always something new around the corner."

Adds Maginnis, "Even if you don't click with someone every once in a while, you just say, 'It's my job,' take the stage, and sell it."

"My job is to get dancers out of their comfort zones," Andrews says. "As a result, we've learned a lot of wonderful partnering and have become known for it. Our women are strong; they can lift the men."

Stirring to go, Andrews checks to make sure she has left behind enough flyers to attract potential audience members from among the coffee-house patrons. "The reason we're so successful is that our vision is clear, and it's stayed pretty much the same throughout the years," she says. There's no flavor of the month. We have what we need to sustain us."

Linda Andrews will continue to see to that.

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