With the clock ticking on the final curtain at Minneapolis' Cowles Center for Dance and Performing Arts, which is set to go dark at the end of March, Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre demonstrated Saturday and Sunday why the venue is so important to the Twin Cities in the first place.
With a captivating story, flashy solos, lush design and collaborative exploration, the company's "The Conference of the Birds," based on the ancient Persian poem by Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar, is the kind of grand work that shines on the Cowles' majestic stage and facilities.
Speaking before Saturday's show, Zorongo's artistic director Susana di Palma noted that beyond being a dance and performing venue, Cowles also has an educational program where she has taught for 15 years. The show featured a flamenco dance performed by students from FAIR school, whom di Palma has been working with this winter. The young dancers, dressed in colorful suits and skirts, performed a festive work called "Di Mi Nombre."
In "Conference of the Birds," a trio of musicians packed a powerful punch as accompaniment to the movement, with music composition by guitarist Juanito Pascual, and flute and singing by Alfonso Cid. José Moreno did double duty as percussionist and dancer, dominating the stage with his forceful, exuberant footwork and intoxicating stage charisma in several solo pieces.
Di Palma teamed up with Darrius Strong for the choreograpy, infusing the flamenco aesthetic with Strong's singular movement style.
Stylistically, Strong often brings influences of contemporary and modern dance, West African movement, hip-hop and a narrative focus to his work. Those layers were all seen in this production — mostly through his own dancing as the Hoopoe, whom the other birds elected as their leader. At times, the layers showed up in the movements by other dancers, as well.
Zorongo's ensemble was a forceful bunch. An early scene showed the birds protesting the long journey their new leader proposed. Strong matched each bird's personality and energy, enticing them to join on the planned endeavor.
Once the journey began, a series of solo dances marked the seven valleys the birds passed through as they shed layers of dogma, reason, worldly knowledge, desires and attachments. They performed the solos in front of animated projections by Jonathan Thunder. The artist's work highlighted the essence of each valley with bold colors and movement, with the dancers' silhouettes merging nicely with the images.
At the end of the show," the birds realized what they were seeking was themselves all along. It's an apt message for the crisis the Twin Cities dance community finds itself in, with the imminent closure of the Minneapolis landmark along with other funding struggles.
Zorongo drove home this message by concluding the performance without a curtain call. Instead it chose to have the birds exit out the aisles as they had arrived, with a note in the program inviting the audience to follow them.