Uruguayan-born, Brooklyn-based choreographer Luciana Achugar has given Zenon Dance Company a rare and wonderful gift. Her “Molten Substance,” which premiered Friday night at the Cowles Center as part of the troupe’s 30th spring season, is a politically charged and wildly funny commentary about women on the verge. It shared the evening with repertory selections from Seán Curran, Mariusz Olszewski and Netta Yerushalmy, all dance makers known for subverting expectations.

Performed by the fearless quartet of Mary Ann Bradley, Tamara Ober, Leslie O’Neill and Laura Selle Virtucio (who also collaborated in the work’s creation), “Molten” has a cathartic quality, but the two-time Bessie award-winning Achugar also revealed a broader agenda, one seemingly inspired by a riot grrrl fed up after a long day of street harassment.

Moans from the dancers evolved from sensual intensity to banshee-like wailing. Long hair obscured faces while legs stayed bare, a statement about the parsing of the female body in everything from art to advertising.

The dancing veered from subtle shrugs to full out stomping and increasingly absurd pelvic thrusts propelled by composer JT Bates performing live on drums. And it was all tempered with a rebellious playfulness (yes, it is possible to put on tight jeans without using your hands).

Hooray for this audacious, calculatingly inappropriate and consistently intelligent work about women taking back power.

Curran’s “Hard Bargain” (2008), danced confidently by Tristan Koepke, Scott Mettille, Stephen Schroeder and Greg Waletski, is not as hard-hitting as “Molten,” but it also plays with gender roles by contrasting chivalrous masculine posturing with delicate moments of grace. Waletski, who is in his final shows with Zenon after 22 years, demonstrated his capacity for effortless extension and bounding lightness of being throughout the piece.

Olszewski’s “Hotel Tango (para Sharon)” (2012) was performed with unrestrained passion by Bradley, Koepke, Schroeder and Virtucio while Yerushalmy’s raucous “Hello, my name is Catherine” showed off the whole company in a kinetic deconstruction of Béla Bartók’s elegantly complex compositions.

The latter work, with its clever blend of court dancing and postmodern mayhem, is a particularly fine example of Zenon’s ability to interpret innovative new perspectives from the national dance scene.

The second weekend is a different program featuring the world premiere of Faye Driscoll’s “Mariana,” a reprise of “Hotel Tango,” and works by Wynn Fricke and Daniel Charon.


Caroline Palmer writes about dance.