The joyful looks on the faces of Zenon Dance Company's members during their rip-roaring performance of Daniel Charon's "Storm" said it all: They loved being onstage Friday night at the Cowles Center. And so, it seemed, did the many other local and national dance luminaries who shared the opportunity to celebrate a new Twin Cities arts institution at the downtown Minneapolis center.
Much has been made of the years, effort and dollars leading up to this debut. And only time can reveal the ways the Cowles Center will transform an already vibrant dance community. But this weekend all eyes are on the center's Goodale Theater, where performers are working the boards for the first time after a trumpet fanfare and a Native American blessing by Larry Yazzie. The question now is how does dance look in this space specially designed to support it?
Based on the gala experience, the Cowles has much to offer audiences and artists alike. The theater décor has an elegant simplicity, and the sightlines, at least from the perspective of a mid-orchestra seat, are excellent. In fact, the generous rake of the seating throughout the house should guarantee clear views for most everyone.
The stage is large, but it is also versatile with respect to a variety of dance perspectives. On Friday night, James Sewell Ballet's "Adjunct Fractal," Minnesota Dance Theatre's "Rumblings" and Zenon's "Storm" showcased the expansive possibilities for group pieces. On the other hand, former Merce Cunningham dancer Jonah Bokaer's "Sage Phrase" (created for the center's namesake Sage Cowles) demonstrated that a well-choreographed intimate solo can co-exist with the high proscenium.
There were also moments that would have "wowed" no matter the venue. Tap dancer Savion Glover commanded a platform rigged to amplify every step of his rhythmic genius. New York City Ballet's Wendy Whelan and Clifton Brown of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater interpreted Jessica Lang's "Among the Stars" with poetic grace. And then there was Brown's superhuman performance of David Parsons' "Caught," which uses a strobe light to create the illusion of a dancer in flight. A particularly fitting program choice considering the local dance scene is poised to soar a bit higher now that the Cowles is open.
The celebration continues Sunday. See www.thecowlescenter.org for details.
Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.