Fairy tales are full of puzzles awaiting resolution, as the Brothers Grimm knew well. Minnesota Dance Theatre takes on one of the writing duo's classic stories in "The Enchantment: 12 Dancing Princesses" at the Cowles Center in Minneapolis, and while the work does reach its happy ending, the performance journey itself is tentative and often lackluster. Still, there were some moments of inspiration on Friday night in this revisiting of a 2006 production choreographed by artistic director Lise Houlton.
The narrative is straightforward. Every night, 12 princesses are compelled to rise from their beds and dance in a secret grotto until their shoes are worn out. During the day, the exhausted young women sleepwalk through life. The king (Sam Feipel) wants answers, promising the hand of one of his daughters to the man who can break the spell. Many try but fail, until a "dreamer" (Justin Leaf) finally succeeds.
Part of the problem for MDT comes from the source material itself -- it's scant and repetitive -- but more could be done to inject a sense of desperation, peril, urgency and mystery into the work. The princesses, led by Raina Gilliland and Katie Johnson, are either in a constant whirl or nodding off. There's a tantalizing subtext about their role in maintaining the madness, but the question of whether the dozen daughters hold malice or affection for their doomed wannabe-heroes goes unexplored.
Gilliland has a delicate sense of romanticism, while Johnson is as sharp as ever in her dancing; so, too, is Leaf, who shines with crisp continuity. New company member Thom Dancy adds a comedian's touch, and apprentice Dylan Wald shows strong potential, both in the suitor roles.
The choreography for Feipel, however, is so laden with agitation that his performance seems one-dimensional. While his character's turmoil is understandable, the range of possible emotions is ignored. Even the heartache in Feipel's duet with Gilliland (also taking on the role of the spirit of the widowed king's wife) feels rushed.
Compositions by Leos Janacek and Tom Linker inject energy into the performance. It is a treat to experience dance accompanied by live music, in this case a sparkling sextet of strings and piano. But even with this notable contribution, there's just not enough magic and drama in "The Enchantment" to set the imagination on fire.
Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.