Zenon Dance Company launched into its last-ever weekend of performances with tears, laughter and some virtuosic dancing Thursday night, showcasing four of the five repertory pieces it will present through Sunday.
Interspersed between the dances, Artistic Director Linda Z. Andrews told stories about Zenon’s history. There were also two videos featuring past Zenon choreographers and members of the current dance company sharing memories, impersonations, dance tributes, photos and love.
Opening night began with Wynn Fricke’s ethereal “Wine Dark Sea,” a 2012 work that will be performed again on Saturday. The piece features dancers (wearing Annie Cady’s diaphanous costumes) moving in amorphous patterns to Peter O’Gorman’s thrilling percussive live score. Fricke’s work is sculptural in its artful lifts, while often surprising with its peculiar juts and jerks.
Also featured on opening night was Luciana Achugar’s crowd-pleaser “Molten Substance,” a piece from 2013 that will repeat both Saturday and Sunday. Featuring four women dancers (including the fantastic former longtime company member Mary Ann Bradley), the work uses women’s bluejeans to represent the patriarchy. With long hair covering their faces, the dancers suggested animals as they turned clothing items into mysterious objects — at one point using the jeans to flap their arms like wings. Eventually, the performers managed to get their jeans fitted onto their legs and hips — inexplicably, without the use of their arms. But the achievement was short-lived. These creatures are too wild for something as restricting as fitted pants.
Two pieces from the opening night program are featured on all the weekend’s performances: Colleen Thomas’ “Catching Her Tears (40 ° N 73° W)” from 2007 and Danny Buraczeski’s “Song Awakened” from 2001, set to music by Cape Verdean vocalist Cesária Évora.
Thomas’ piece is rapturous, a fitting showcase for Zenon at its best with complex, interwoven choreography fueled by passionate movement. Composer and cellist Chris Lancaster accompanied the performance, playing his haunting and electrified score. Dancers shared weight and lifted each other’s bodies in a piece that grapples with the looming presence of death. Sarah Steichen Stiles captures an aching melancholy in her final Zenon solo as she gathers small lights from around the stage and envelops them into herself until they are hidden from view.
In contrast to the somber tone of Thomas’ work, Buraczeski’s “Song Awakened” concluded the evening with joy and levity. Évora’s velvety voice set the tone for the breezy dance, lighted by a giant moon projected above. Infused with Latin rhythms, the work spotlights lovely partnering as well as ensemble work by eight dancers, whose sweeping gestures drew ember from the nostalgic ballads. It was a fitting finale for the company.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis critic and arts journalist.