Endings and beginnings as Zenon Dance turns 30

Categories: Dance

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Photo by Steve Niedorf
"Booba" by Andrea Miller
The spring concert of Zenon Dance Company and School's 30th anniversary season carries a few of endings. The company will be honoring longtime dancer Greg Waletski, who has been dancing with the troupe for 22 years. He plans to retire after the two weekends of performances. The school also recently lost John Munger, one of its most beloved instructors, when he died on April 30 at the age of 67. He had been teaching there since 1990.

"It's just awful," says artistic director Linda Andrews about Munger's passing. "He was such a nice man, and he had taught at Zenon forever. We're going to really miss him."

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John Munger at Zenon
A whole generation of dancers and performers learned from Munger. Whether they went on to pursue further training and careers in performing, or came to him to gain an appreciation of what modern dance was all about, he was there to entertain with his goofy and witty sayings, to enlighten with his profound inspiration, and to share in the discovery and wonder of contemporary movement and thought.

A wonderful artist in his own right, Munger never performed with Zenon, but was a regular at Continental Ballet and had his own company, Third Rabbit Ensemble. Also a critic and scholar, he perhaps will best be remembered for the mentorship, expertise, and nurturing that he gave to not only his students at Zenon but a whole crop of independent choreographers that make up the landscape of Twin Cities dance.

Andrews says she plans to say a few words about Munger in her opening announcement at Zenon's shows this weekend.

She also says that she's highlighting Waletski in his last concert before he retires. Waletski will perform a solo in "Hard Bargain," a piece choreographed by Seán Curran, this weekend and he is featured in a number of other pieces as well.

Fans of Zenon will surely be sorry to see Waletski go. Whether he was decked out in green spandex and white socks for Morgan Thorson's "Deluxe Edition" in 2011, dancing a tango with Tamara Ober in Susana Tambutti's "Like an Octopus" in 2010, or almost flying through the air as if weightless in Wynn Fricke's "The Shape of the Wind" in 2008, Waletski has always been a marvelous performer to watch with his exuberant energy and finesse.

"He's just such a wonderful man," Andrews says of Waletski. "It's hard to let him go. He's been such a rock. He's been a positive and wonderful influence at Zenon. He's a very special performer."

Andrews says Waletski plans to segue into becoming an ASL interpreter. "He's been through some bad injuries," she says. "He's ready to make the transition and go out on a high note. I'm really supportive of that. I just hate to have him retire." She notes that she hopes to have him return as a guest artist in the future.

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Photo by Steve Niedorf
"Like an Octopus" by Susana Tambutti
Andrews says she's very proud of the company, after it's 30th season. "We are at a very high level, and it's not easy surviving as a dance company. It's a lot of work for both myself and the dancers," she says. She's feeling good, though, and wants to continue.

Zenon is featuring two up and coming New York choreographers with the performances as well: Luciana Achugar's "Molten Substance" premiering the first weekend, and Faye Driscoll's "Mariana" premiering the second. Both choreographers have recently won Guggenheim fellowships. "They are getting a lot of attention right now," Andrews says of the two women. "They are on their way up in career trajectory."

Achugar's work will include collaboration with local jazz percussionist JT Bates, and Driscoll's piece the second week will be accompanied by sound and singing by dancers with no outside music.

Other choreographers featured over the two weeks include Seán Curran and Netta Yerushalmy the first weekend, and Wynn Fricke (in collaboration with musician Peter O'Gorman) and Mark Haim the second weekend. Mariusz Olszewki's showy "Hotel Tango" will be performed both weekends.

If you're a fan of Twin Cities dance, you won't want to miss at least one of Zenon's two performance weekends (although the first week has Waletski's extensive solo). Not only is this a final chance to bid Waletski farewell and a great opportunity to see exciting new work of up-and-coming women choreographers, but also to celebrate our truly wonderful local dance community. It's a community that John Munger himself supported and relished.

All things come to an end. Munger, such a vital part of the arts community here, has left us too soon. Greg Waletski moves on to the next stage of his journey, and hopefully will be back to visit. Zenon is passing the 30-year mark, and continues to make new and experimental work as younger artists are brought up through the company. And all the while, Twin Cities dance becomes more diverse and more full of new ideas. It's not that they never fall. It's just that they always get back up again.

IF YOU GO:

Zenon Dance Company: Spring Season
8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays
May 3-12
$30-$54
Cowles Center for Dance and Performing Arts
528 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis
Tickets available online


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The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts

528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, MN

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