Zenon sets the stage at the Cowles

"Deluxe Edition" by Morgan Thorson
"Deluxe Edition" by Morgan Thorson
Photo by Steve Niedorf

For its 29th season, Zenon Dance Company's first evening of work at the Cowles Center went over with panache. The opening weekend included the premiere of two pieces by Daniel Charon and Mariusz Olszewski, as well as Morgan Thorson's fabulous "Deluxe Edition" from 2010 and Danny Buraczeski's fun "Swing Concerto" from 1993. While each of the choreographers showed off their unique style, they all espoused a sense of theatricality onto Zenon's athletic dancers.

Artistic Director Linda Andrews was dressed for the occasion in a sparkly red dress, calling for her gigantic martini. Indeed, the whole evening had a sense of celebration. Zenon has found its new home at the Cowles, and they intend to make their mark there.

The first piece, "Storm," choreographed by Daniel Charon, begins with the dancers somersaulting, bounding, and leapfrogging over each other, sliding across the floor to pulsing music by Michael Nyman. Often the dancers work in pairs, discovering each other as they moved around the stage. 
Zenon sets the stage at the Cowles
Photo by Michal Daniel

From there, the dance becomes darker, and with the help of Mike Grogan's lighting design of architectural shadows, the whole thing is a bit West Side Story-like. Tension mounts, and duets emerge that hone in the energy without dropping it. Dancers find stillness and weight. Charon's choreography highlights how relaxed the performers are, and how agile. They can change quickly, crawling to barrel turns, then ending abruptly in a circle. The piece is both celebratory and riveting, and opens the door to a new future.

Olszewski's premiere, "Pink Martini," is just as fabulous as the title implies. And while the dancers were just great, the real stars were the dresses, which you can't stop looking at and wondering how the hell the performers keep them on. (There must be some damn good tape involved). It's just a super sexy piece, with folks showing off their moves and looking fantastic. 
Zenon sets the stage at the Cowles
Photo by Stephanie Colgan

The second half of the show opens with Thorson's "Deluxe Edition," featuring Greg Waletski center stage in green spandex and white socks. He's joined by more dancers, and what follows is a strange piece full of aerobic jazzercise movements, non-sexual sexuality, and subtle isolations of hips, toes, and other body parts. What is brilliant about the piece, if you look beyond its bizarreness, is the incredible mastery that Thorson has of composition, creating intricate choreography around the stage that bounces off of itself. The timing and rhythm of the piece is inspired and original--but don't ask what it's about. Within the work are instructions by the dancers themselves: "Look, we won't do it. We won't say what we were doing or what we've done." Clearly, Thorson wants each audience member to come up with their own ideas of what the piece means. So take your best guess. 

The evening concludes with "Swing Concerto," choreographed by Buraczeski, which celebrates the Eastern European klezmer music and the swing orchestras of Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman who, the program notes, were both Jewish and clarinetists. The piece travels from folk dances to swing, and is wonderful and exuberant. 

As an addendum, Greg Waletski really deserves a shout-out for his work in this show. He performed in every single piece on opening night without missing a beat. The dancer is in his 20th year with Zenon, and really encompasses the energy, off-beat sensibility, and vitality of the troupe. Cheers to him. 

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