Mayor R.T. Rybak declared November 16 as Zenon Dance Company Day in Minneapolis. Given how well its members are performing, he could just as well have honored the troupe with the whole year.
On Saturday night at the Cowles Center, two world premieres highlighted the continued artistic vitality of the company, now celebrating three decades as an incubator of fresh perspectives in contemporary dance from all over.
New York's Netta Yerushalmy recently won a Guggenheim fellowship, and, based on her Zenon commission, "Hello, my name is Catherine," it's easy to see why this choreographer is getting such high-level attention. The piece is an oddly delightful amalgam of court and folk dancing all wrapped up in a singular postmodern sensibility, with Tristan Koepke kicking things off in the sort of gown any monarch might have coveted, his hand waving regally.
Set to a raucous Bela Bartok score, "Hello" unfolds as a continual process of deconstruction and a virtuosic exercise in experimentalism, with the dancer's bodies often winding up in unexpected contortions (Leslie O'Neill is masterful in these moments). Yerushalmy also puts Greg Waletski's always-welcome comic timing to use. He tried to get the more formal movement from past eras to stick, but his body rebelled, shaping it into something else entirely -- something more at home in the 21st century.
Mariusz Olszewski's ballroom-inspired romp "Pink Martini" made a splashy debut with Zenon last season; his latest effort, "Hotel Tango (para Sharon)," is emotionally riskier. Two couples (Mary Ann Bradley and Koepke, Stephen Schroeder and Laura Selle Virtucio) display passionate intensity in a work that deftly combines three distinct tango styles. Olszewski sets the technical bar high for the performers, but they dance with discipline and desire, punctuating every interaction with drama.
The evening also featured luciana achugar's intriguing "Structures of Feeling" (2010), a kaleidoscopic pairing of illusion and movement, plus Daniel Charon's epic "Storm" (2011), a work the Zenon dancers embrace with heroic fearlessness, performing as if they were actually tossed about in a torrent's wake.
Next weekend's program sets a different tone, with an emphasis on favorite repertory works. It includes "Hotel Tango" plus Johannes Wieland's "corrosion" (2006), Wynn Fricke's "Blessing of the Earth" (2004) and Danny Buraczeski's "Elegant Echoes" (2007).
Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.