Danny Buraczeski has many places he can call home. There’s the rural Pennsylvania town of his youth, and New York City, where his dance career took off. The choreographer has a Twin Cities address in his past, too: He based his Jazzdance troupe here until 2005. Now the man with 45 years of dance on his résumé is a professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, but keeps a local presence in Zenon Dance company’s repertory.
Over the next two weekends at the Cowles Center, Zenon will perform Buraczeski’s inspired “Ezekiel’s Wheel,” an emotional journey through dance that delves into race relations in America and the civil rights movement. The 1999 work quotes from the novel “Another Country” and other work by writer James Baldwin. It has stunning music by composer/vocalist Philip Hamilton.
“I cry when we rehearse it, it’s such a powerful piece. It’s so big, the humanity behind it,” said Linda Andrews, Zenon’s artistic director.
She isn’t the only one moved to tears. In October, Buraczeski, assisted by former Jazzdance member Joanne Spencer, were here for rehearsals. They both found themselves “crying our eyes out,” Buraczeski said in a phone interview. They were struck by “the history of all those dancers who helped to create the work. They are still present in it. There was a rush of emotions and we had to hug each other for five minutes.”
Buraczeski (who will be at the Cowles on opening night) praised Spencer for her help reviving “Ezekiel’s Wheel,” which was performed by Jazzdance during the early 2000s and by students in the time since. “She is one of those dancers who never forgets a step I made up. My work is so alive in her body.”
Spencer’s kinetic memory is no small feat, since Buraczeski is revered — and occasionally cursed — for the complexity of his artistry.
“It’s challenging, so many steps,” said Andrews. “So many counts, so [expletive] hard. He really gets into the music.”
Another Jazzdance alum, ballroom dance choreographer Mariusz Olszewski, also joined the reunion. “I never performed this dance but [Mariusz] and Joanne had information that was new to me,” said Buraczeski.” They told me exactly what it should be. I filmed it so I would never forget.” And Mary Ann Bradley, also a onetime Jazzdance member who now takes the stage with Zenon, taught her fellow dancers several phrases and will perform a pivotal solo.
Reflecting on connections old and new, including a bursting master class attended by three generations of local dancers, Buraczeski said, “This is the first time since I [moved] to SMU that I really missed having my own company.”
Breakup and makeup
Buraczeski relocated his Jazzdance brand from New York to Minneapolis in 1988 upon an invitation from Andrews to join artistic forces with Zenon. The affiliation was short-lived, and by 1992 Buraczeski had decided to stay in his new locale but redirected his focus on Jazzdance.
Simply put, Buraczeski and Andrews made a bad match and they both describe their “breakup” in marital terms. “We got married, had a great honeymoon and then we had to get a divorce,” said Andrews. “We are opinionated and strong people. It’s very difficult for strong personalities to come together.” According to Buraczeski, “We had different management styles. We had only spent a couple of weeks together [before] and then we were together all the time, on a day-to-day basis. We were incompatible.”
But that was then and this is now. Andrews and Buraczeski might not be the best office mates but they are mutual admirers. “It’s amazing to me that she has been able to maintain a company of such quality for so long. She has a great talent for finding up-and-coming choreographers,” he said.
“I’m always 100 percent behind his work,” said Andrews, who has featured Buraczeski’s choreography in Zenon seasons over the years. “We have a great relationship, with a very respectful and loving tone.”
A world premiere
Zenon’s Cowles program has “serious subject matter,” said Andrews. In addition to “Ezekiel’s Wheel,” the company will perform luciana achugar’s 2013 work “Molten Substance,” a darkly subversive meditation on assumptions about women’s identity (set to live music by drummer J.T. Bates).
And there will be a world premiere: “Caught” by Stefanie Batten Bland, a former performer with Bill T. Jones and Pina Bausch, among several other marquee names in the dance world.
“It’s about water, the environment, a shortage of resources,” said Andrews. “It’s apocalyptic, physical, brutal and raw.”
She also used the adjective “interesting” but not in the typical Minnesota vernacular. Zenon, through its multifaceted dancers and daring choreographers, never settles for the ordinary, which is one of the many reasons why Buraczeski’s extraordinary work will always have a good home here.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.