Break out your pearls, Twin Cities arts fans: we’re celebrating Zenon Dance Company‘s 30th Anniversary! As Zenon prepares to launch their Fall Season with performances November 16-25 at The Cowles Center in Minneapolis, we talked with Artistic Director, Linda Z. Andrews about her reflections on her company’s first 30 years.
MN Original: In 1982, did you imagine that Zenon would be thriving 30 years later?
Linda Andrews: Y’know, I really didn’t. I had no idea. You know, it’s never been easy, it’s always been a struggle to stay in business. Any time you have a modern dance company in America, it’s tough to get support, to always keep paying your staff and paying the dancers, paying the artists. From the very beginning, I thought I could do it. I was a little bit cocky. And I had a very clear mission all the way through. My vision and mission have not changed, it’s absolutely the same, fundamentally the same as when I started. But it’s become enhanced and it’s expanded, so that makes me feel really good. I think those roots are still really strong. I think I’ve been really lucky: I’ve had three decades of dancers who have constantly inspired me with their artistry. I have just worked to keep challenging those artists and to keep a lot of creative growth alive for dancers at Zenon.
I guess the main thing that has propelled me through all these years is always focusing on artistic excellence, trying to reach for the impossible: for perfection. I am a perfectionist.
MNO: You mentioned that your mission has not changed in 30 years. What is Zenon’s mission?
LA: Right, I do think it’s a lot about spirit that’s carried Zenon throughout 30 years. And my vision and mission is to strive for artistic excellence in our main stage performances, and also in Zenon’s outreach. I want to expose as many people to dance, to this artistic excellence in dance, as possible. The way that I do that, that I’ve developed throughout the years is presenting main stage performances, but also doing really intensive educational outreach into the schools and communities across Minnesota. And then the third prong, the third part of my vision is to have a very diverse and comprehensive dance school that has the best instructors available. I think this three-pronged approach to the community serves us well. And I never once thought that I wasn’t serving the Twin Cities and the State of Minnesota – that’s been clear to me from the beginning; that we are truly a non-profit arts organization. I think that mission gave us a lot of strength and ability to expose dance. And dance is still the one art form that is under exposed and under funded in America.
I think one of my chief messages to any of our audiences is that what Zenon presents — a mixture of current, modern, jazz and ballroom dance in this country — it’s educating youth and adults that this is part of culture as Americans, this is what’s happening with dance right now in America. I strive to work with a lot of emerging artists. This keeps Zenon right at the forefront of what’s happening in dance.
MNO: What would you view as the biggest accomplishment of Zenon in the past 30 years? What’s been the biggest surprise?
LA: The biggest accomplishment, I don’t know! In terms of biggest accomplishment, there have been so many accomplishments that it’s difficult for me to choose one over the other. I think the biggest accomplishment is the development of the dancers. I’ve been able to create careers for these wonderful performers. I’ve been able to really develop actual careers for these artists, and to do it consistently. So I’m extremely proud of that. Along that line is our work, what we’re able to do in the schools. I have a 100% success rate with this residency model that we use, which is very comprehensive and creative. We choreograph based on curriculum. How many times I’ve been brought to tears watching these children perform, and how many times the teachers have cried watching this. I am a lucky woman because I am able to actually do what I love and have a passion for, and touch people’s lives in a positive way.
I guess I’m surprised, I think it’s too bad that we can’t be further along economically. I’m still kind of surprised, partially, that for as much work as I put into this, it’s still difficult to build an audience and get funding. So a lot of that is still a very basic struggle, even in our 30th year.
MNO: How has the Twin Cities dance scene changed in the past 30 years? And in that evolution, how is Zenon continuing to push the envelope?
LA: I think the main thing is that the level of the dancers is so much higher than when I started this. That was one of my goals: to get a real, New York-level of dance here. I think there are more choreographers working. There aren’t a lot of choreographers that come out of the Twin Cities that are known. But I think the Twin Cities has developed into a very positive climate for dance, and we have a good reputation nationally. Choreographers love to come and work in Minnesota. It’s one of the few spots in the U.S. that has a lot of stuff going on in dance, a lot of energy. And we’ve got The Cowles Center for Dance, an actual dance theater. Very few cities in the U.S. have that, so I think that’s just amazing. Now we just have to settle in and really work at building that dance audience, which is really needed here in the Twin Cities. It’ll take a while, but I think that will come as well.
MNO: Can you give us a preview of the first show of your 30th season? How did you choose the pieces and the choreographers? What does this show represent for you?
LA: It’s two separate weekends of dance, with the second weekend being more of a retrospective of classic Zenon, some of the pieces that have stood out. I think for me, always, when I choose my seasons, it’s very much my instinct. It’s something that I feel, or that comes to me. I definitely wanted to present [dances from] Luciana Achugar and Netta Yerushalmy. These two women are doing really interesting work. Luciana, the way she works is so primal and so different from everybody. That type of modern [dance] you don’t see that much outside of New York and that’s what Zenon does. So we’re bringing in this more post-modern, quite experimental, abstract work. I try to balance it out with a piece like “Storm,” which was insanely popular and well-received; a very epic and American, big movement and modern dance piece, something very inspiring and people get very inspired watching it. And then also premiering this new tango piece. I wanted to premiere another piece by Mariusz Olszewski because he’s so good with what he does with Latin. So it’s just a very interesting fit.
This combination, it’s not out of bounds for my company. So other people would say, when I started Zenon, “You can’t mix modern and jazz, what are you doing?” And I said, “Why the hell not, they’re both so American.” And Zenon really is the epitome of American, modern, jazz, ballroom dance: the whole contemporary dance scene. So in that way, we’re continuing to really push dance. And that’s what exciting about American dance – just continuing to push the boundaries, and we’re part of that out here in the Midwest.
It’s like live performance, there’s always that quest for the moment of spirit, the technical, everything coming together, to create an evening of transcendent dance. This doesn’t happen every night but it happens a lot. It’s those moments that really inspire me. And that is artistic excellence, and it is the human spirit, and the spirit of Zenon.