When Zenon Dance Company premiered Stefanie Batten Bland’s “Appétit” in 2015 at the Cowles Center, the world was still reeling from the horrifying terrorist attack at the Bataclan music venue in Paris.
The news was especially awful for the Zenon dancers because they had created the piece with Batten Bland during a residency in France.
Zenon celebrated its 35th season with “Appétit” for a small opening night audience at the O’Shaughnessy last weekend.
The piece began in darkness with the sound of the dancers’ voices muttering softly, then more loudly.
“It’s mine,” they called. When the lights came on, the dancers could be seen choking and gasping, their sinewy bodies pulled by an inexplicable force from their stomachs. They rolled over one another with tight muscles and jerking limbs. Their power struggles led only to more suffering, with the dancers eventually crawling wretchedly on the ground.
The piece’s final moments, complete with menacing animal masks, were unsettling. Batten Bland revealed the worst excesses of human nature. Her raw denouncement of humanity’s base qualities held a particular resonance in the wake of the massacre three years ago, but it continued to feel prescient even now.
Zenon followed “Appétit” with the world premiere of “Thread,” a trio by New York-based Israeli choreographer Ori Flomin, who created it in collaboration with dancers Scott Mettille, Laura Osterhaus and Alyssa Soukup.
Where the first piece was full of symbolism, “Thread” had less of a narrative framework. Instead, Flomin pointed his focus on bodies, or, to be more specific, on body parts.
“Thread” opened with a spotlight on the three dancers’ hands, thanks to lighting design by Mike Grogan. Their hands almost seemed detached from their bodies, a phenomenon that repeated throughout the piece with different body parts.
There was a weightlessness to the work, an ease with which the dancers wove together, showing the possibility of connection through touch and energy.
After intermission, Zenon performed Kyle Abraham’s 2011 piece, “My Quarreling Heart,” a work that showcased the Zenon dancers’ top-notch technique. With hip-hop moves seamlessly mixed with ballet forms, the dance was fast-paced and fierce.
Finally, the program ended with an older work from the company’s repertoire, “Song Awakened,” which Danny Buraczeski choreographed in 2001. Set to the gorgeous Cape Verdean songs of Cesaria Evora, the piece provided a luscious conclusion to the evening, complete with moonlight silhouettes, and breezy, sumptuous movement.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis critic and arts journalist.