There's a kind of magic that happens with long-term collaborations, especially in dance. Choreographer Wynn Fricke's relationship with Zenon Dance Company spans over two decades, first as a dancer and then as a frequent choreographer, so it's no wonder that she seems to know the dancers inside and out. In "The Mourning Tree," her latest commission created with the Zenon dancers, an intuitive movement language of shifting weights and kinesthetic response creates a spellbinding harmony.
Joining the dancers are the Mila Vocal Ensemble, a Bulgarian female a cappella vocal group whose dissonant and percussive vocal sounds drive the narrative thread of the piece, which navigates life in a small village. With wedding dances, starry nights and epic tales of heroes from long ago, the music fuels the earthy dance as it reflects on the cycles of life. Even the Zenon dancers joined in the singing at one point, with Mary Ann Bradley demonstrating her pure, open voice.
Zenon also premieres Chris Schlichting's "Inside Wrinkles" in this concert at the Cowles Center. Schlichting specializes in repetition in his choreography, using vernacular movements like pointing or other non-dance gestures to create intricate webs of movement. The dancers become pieces of a large machine, performing with a kind of detachment, even when thrusting their pelvises toward the audience while wearing short cut-off jeans or becoming patients unable to control their muscle movements. The result is a dense, mesmerizing work that lacks emotional connection.
Also on the program is luciana achugar's "Molten Substance," which Zenon commissioned in 2013. Set to drumming by local favorite JT Bates, who performs live, four female dancers transform into moaning creatures, their long hair brushed over their faces. They wear blue jeans on their arms, flapping them like wings. Eventually the dancers strive to put the jeans on their legs without the use of their arms as they wriggle about in animalistic grunts. Part feminist manifesto, part Calvin Klein commercial, the piece taps into a familiar daily struggle with a sexy and subversive edge.
Concluding the performance is the 2014 "Coming Home," composed and choreographed by Cuban artist Osnel Delgado. The dynamic piece transforms motions from a baseball game into often clever and surprising lyrical phrases. It will be performed next January in Cuba, when Zenon travels to Havana on an international tour.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis writer.