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Triumphant trip to Cuba fuels Zenon Dance's 33rd spring season

"The Mourning Tree" by Wynn Fricke

"The Mourning Tree" by Wynn Fricke

While most of us slogged through January hunched over in our parkas, Zenon Dance Company was rocking Havana with dance, American style.

“We got there before President Obama and the Rolling Stones. We were treated like rock stars, with standing ovations and lines outside the theater,” says Linda Z. Andrews, Zenon’s founder and artistic director. “They were even scalping tickets on the street.”

Following Cuban choreographer Osnel Delgado’s creation of the dance “Coming Home” with the company in 2014, Zenon received an invitation to perform in the historic Teatro José Martí, a 19th-century theater in downtown Havana.

But first Andrews had to raise $50,000.

It took her over two years to do it but Andrews, known for her spunk and iron will, was determined to bring provocative modern dance from Zenon’s eclectic repertory to Cuba.

Along with Delgado’s “Coming Home,” the company performed “Ezekiel’s Wheel,” Danny Buraczeski’s jazz-inflected exploration of the Civil Rights movement, and Minnesotan Wynn Fricke’s visceral duet "My Very Empty Mouth." They also offered modern and jazz dance classes.

The Cuban and American dancers connected outside of the studio in the flourishing Havana club scene. “I didn’t know what I was doing out on that dance floor, but I was moving everything,” laughs company member MaryAnn Bradley.

Andrews and the dancers were struck by both the richness of Cuban culture and the extremes. “On the one hand, there is rampant poverty. On the other, there’s a very high literacy rate — almost 100 percent,” she says. Resources were extremely limited, so Zenon brought 2,000 programs in Spanish.

All three Zenon performances sold out, indicating a real hunger for American dance.

“For the dancers, the raves and adoration they received produced a huge surge of confidence,” says Andrews. All that self-assurance will be on view during Zenon’s 33rd Spring Season at the Cowles Center for the Performing Arts.

During a recent open rehearsal of a new work by New York-based choreographer Sam Kim, a clump of dancers lifted a woman who attempted to scramble to the top of the heap, grabbing onto whatever body surfaces she could reach. Kim explained the task as “trying to get to an apex one can never reach.” Sound a little like life? Maybe, but Kim described it more abstractly as “a jittery amoeba shape.”

Kim approaches her choreography as physics in motion, where dancers are asked to explore the sometimes risky possibilities of weight, impact, and leverage.

And going for broke is right up Zenon’s alley.

“The dancers met me in every way with generosity of spirit and willingness to experiment. They offered me a holistic, multi-dimensional intelligence,” says Kim.

The upcoming program also includes works by Joanna Kotze, Wynn Fricke, and Danny Buraczeski.

Best reason to go? This will be your last chance to see Stephen Schroeder, whose supple athleticism, hunky charm, and subtle ambiguity have illuminated Zenon’s repertory for 15 years. The concert is dedicated to him.

IF YOU GO:

Zenon Dance Company’s 33rd Spring Season

8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, May 6-7, 13-14; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 15

Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts

$34 (fees included)

For tickets, email [email protected] or call 612-206-3600.