Wednesday, November 7, 2012

"Minnesota, hats off to thee!"

Minneapolis, Minnesota


Monday, November 5, 2012

It's showtime! "Vote No x 2 Minnesota"

Minneapolis, Minnesota

November 6, 2012

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Meaning, madness, and the magic of Zenon Dance Company

Minneapolis, Minnesota • © 2012 Gary Peterson

"We must lift the sail and catch the winds of destiny wherever they may blow. To put meaning in one's life may end in madness, but life without meaning is the curse of restlessness and vague desire – it is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid." –Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology

This credo, from the epitaph of George Gray, one of many dead characters in "Spoon River Anthology," the 1915 classic by Edgar Lee Masters, has guided my life and outlook for more than 40 years. One might apply it also to the journey of the Zenon Dance Company and School over the years, and to that of many people who were part of its early crucible. The company will inaugurate its 30th anniversary season with performances at The Cowles Center for Dance, Nov. 16-25, 2012.

To be present at the creation of an endeavor, as I was from 1981 to 1991, provided unique opportunities to participate and observe. My initial encounters with Zenon and its predecessor, Ozone Dance School, were those of observer. The observation led to years of participation as dance student and managing director.

Tripping on Zs: Ozone, Rezone, Just Jazz
Gary Peterson • 1989 • Lobby of the "Queen Mary"
Photo James Davies

When I attended modern dance classes at the University of Minnesota in 1982 and 1983, we were assigned to review live performances in the community. In the 1980s, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board sponsored free, alfresco performances at the Nicollet Island Amphitheater. It was there that I first encountered the New Dance Ensemble, founded in 1981 by Leigh Dillard and Linda Shapiro, and the Rezone Dancers (modern choreography) and the Just Jazz Dancers, led by Linda Z. Andrews; the latter two were pre-professional companies of the Ozone Dance School.

These three ensembles were the hot new things in dance those days, and I began attending their performances outside of class. For Ozone, these included packed-to-the-rafters studio performances held in the school's space on the fourth floor of the Wyman Building, 400 First Avenue North, in the Minneapolis Warehouse District. Kathleen Maloney, the managing director and one of two staff people, sold tickets from her metal cash box in the first floor lobby.

Three things lent these groups a compelling essence. First, their research and development "departments" were in high gear, trying out local and national choreographers right and left, nurturing all and lifting up the best. Second, they were doing the same in the training of their dancers. Third, each ensemble was in the process of becoming, and they put on the best shows possible. If those were not reasons enough, 'the women were strong and the men good looking,' as Garrison Keillor might say. There are few other realms where our culture provides imagery of strong women and gentle men at work as equals. There are many worse reasons to like dance.

While I always delighted in watching the New Dance Ensemble and sent it regular donation checks, to my eye its dancers moved with a cooler reserve while the Ozone folks had the edge in passion, and in my heart, even though they sometimes shared personnel.

Along with the designs of choreographers, dancers are both the manufacturers and the second, requisite element of the discipline's artistic products ("the stuff of which it is made"). Both the design and its execution can be either brilliant or flawed. Timing and the technical acumen, personalities, and cohesion of all involved – including the audience – can affect the final output. That may sound amazingly soulless, but "acts of creation are acts of faith." Dancers are the most intelligent people on the planet, and I often liken them to priests and priestesses, working in their temples of studio and stage to touch on aspects of the sacred and the divine. When they make the connections, nothing else matters.

From 1979 to 1983, the Rezone Dancers and Just Jazz Dancers were scholarship performing companies in Ozone's school. Of 44 students who progressed through the program, just over half went on to dance professionally with other concert dance companies and musical theaters. Ozone's total subsidy of the scholarship students over those four years was nearly $65,000. Its studios were in use 12 of every 24 hours. Classes met in the mornings, at midday, in evenings, and on weekends. When classes were not happening, many independent choreographers and dancers used the space for rehearsals.

First dance classes

My first dance classes were not with the University or Ozone, but with Patrick Scully. The first class met, from fall 1981 until spring 1982, at 626 Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. There, Scully, with the help of his roommate, James Davies, and others had constructed a studio on the street side of the third floor, above the Best Steak House and the former Hollywood School of Beauty; they lived in a loft setting at the back. A group of their friends, mostly artists, lived on the second floor.

I had attended one of Scully's performances, "A Personal Goodbye," presented at the Mixed Blood Theatre in the spring of 1981, shortly after moving to the West Bank neighborhood. The flyers that advertised the performance were designed to catch the eye, featuring a stylized, rear-view nude photo of Scully. It was not a case of false advertising, as was made clear at the venue, located a block from where I lived. Davies provided live piano accompaniment to Scully's solo dancing. As a dutiful audience member, I signed up for the mailing list in the lobby. 
Linda Z. Andrews • 1989 • Photo James Davies

When I received a mailed flyer announcing formation of a Contact Improvisation ("CI") dance class that Scully would teach a few months later, its Wednesday night meeting time proved to be the perfect leavening to my schedule of full-time work and full-time class and study. While Minneapolis had been the scene of a dynamic CI milieu in the late 1970s, it was all new to me. When, after several months, Scully informed our motley group of about 10 men that classes would end because he would be traveling, I added modern dance classes for credit to my course load at the University

Dance had lived in the University's Department of Education for 60 years; in 1981-82, students garnered 1,847 credit hours. In the spring of 1983, 325 of us were enrolled in classes when Kenneth Keller, the University's president, moved to eliminate dance from the curriculum because of its lack of impact and tightening finances. This prompted Nadine Jette, the sole, full-time faculty member devoted to dance, to rally the community and build the movement that eventually added dance to the Department of Theatre Arts within the College of Liberal Arts. A fundraising effort followed at the Minnesota Legislature and elsewhere that resulted in construction of the Barbara Barker Center for Dance on the West Bank campus in Minneapolis.

As part of that campaign, I wrote to Keller, Apr. 29, telling him of my intent to pursue an MA in dance therapy if my plans for graduate work in psychology did not pan out. I told him that, instead of eliminating dance classes, he should make them an elective for every student's core curriculum. I also invited him to join us in class on a Tuesday or Thursday morning. I never heard from him, but the collective we won that battle and the overall war when the Barker Center opened 16 years later, in 1999.

My motivation for joining the campaign to save dance at the University was more than chaste altruism. I would have fought anyone for the opportunity to share classes with Daniel, the other male student. Stated simply: he was beautiful. There is nothing wrong with such motivation in the search for honesty, meaning, or beauty in art and life.

After leaving the University, I attended modern classes with Erika Thorne and Joan Sloss, and a jazz class at the old MacPhail Center for the Arts. For several weeks in the fall of 1983, Scully re-convened the men from the earlier CI class to create and perform "Warsaw," a work set to "Warszawa" by David Bowie and Brian Eno. We performed on a December weekend at Jeff Sandeen's studio in the building that now houses Sex World on Washington Avenue North in Minneapolis.

The emergence of Zenon

At the prompting of their dancers, the pre-professional Rezone and Just Jazz dance companies of Ozone merged to form the professional Zenon Dance Company in 1983. Debut performances were presented on the sixth floor of the Hennepin Center for the Arts, 528 Hennepin Avenue, in downtown Minneapolis, Apr. 6-9.

Andrews later said she had felt reluctant and ambivalent about taking the step to professional status because she knew how difficult it would be to build and maintain a professional company. After knowing her in that time and working with her for five years, however, I came to believe that she wanted it at least as much as her dancers.
Top of Zenon's entry stairs at 324 • Note how ceiling
insulation offsets the up-scale live plant!
Photo James Davies

As I noted in a review of a spring 2012 Zenon performance, 
the new, professional company was viewed by many as an impertinent upstart, and its debut program offered what most observers at the time, and for some years afterward, considered to be an improbable and unworkable mix of modern and jazz dance choreography. The opening bill featured works by Hannah Kahn, Charlie Vernon, Lewis Whitlock, Linda Shapiro, Wil Swanson, Lynn Simonson, and Anne Gunderson.
The notion that dancers could cross-train to perform many styles of modern dance, as well as jazz dance, was considered to be something of a joke by many local and national gatekeepers who served on the staffs and granting panels of service organizations, foundations, government agencies, and the media. It took many performance seasons and grant-making rounds to convince them to open their minds, trust their eyes, and lend their support.

Andrews and her company also had ambition and a dogged pursuit of artistic excellence in their eyes, something that did not sit well with many in the community. Still doesn't. The water that we drink makes Minnesotans somewhat schizophrenic. We want to be known to outsiders as world class in all our endeavors, but we smack down those among us who aspire to be more than just good enough. If one wants to pursue an uppity calling, s/he must go elsewhere, and we rarely forgive those who do. We also can be very hard and unwelcoming to newcomers from elsewhere.

Some back story

Early in 1984, I was accepted into the MA clinical track of the Department of Psychology at Mankato State University beginning in the fall. In the spring, Davies and I traveled by Greyhound bus from Minneapolis to Mankato for a day of separate exploring of the campus and community where we would live for two years. After Scully's dance class ended in the spring of 1982, Davies and I had lost touch. We re-met at the Gay Pride Festival in Loring Park in June 1983, and had been keeping company since.

When we met at day's end to catch the bus back to Minneapolis, I observed that I had encountered one negative vibe after another all day in conversations with everyone on campus, and was not sure that spending two years there would be a wise or productive course. Davies' experience on his rounds had been similar and, after a week's reflection, I declined the program's offer. I continued with my work as a legal assistant and office manager at a Minneapolis law firm.

A new life phase began when Davies and I moved in together in November 1984. In January 1985, I overcame the intimidation I felt on two fronts, first when I accepted Claude Peck's invitation to join him as co-host of his weekly Fresh Fruit program on KFAI radio (a collaboration serving the gay community that lasted for nearly eight years), and second when I enrolled in jazz classes at the Zenon Dance School.

The Ordway opens

That January also was notable for the opening of the Ordway Music Theatre, the cultural jewel in the crown of downtown St. Paul, situated across the street from the Landmark Center and Rice Park. The venue offered a 10-day festival of opening performances on its main and studio stages. The Ordway was a sensation, and news of it dominated headlines and front pages of Twin Cities newspapers for days.

Leontyne Price, the Metropolitan Opera soprano, and pianist David Garvey held court in the 1,900-seat Main Hall under the aegis of The Schubert Club, for the grand opening, Tuesday, Jan. 8. Simultaneously, the Great North American History Theatre and the Mixed Blood Theatre Company displayed their wares in the 315-seat Studio Theatre next door. 

The next evening, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra presented an all-Mozart program in the Main Hall, and the Studio Theatre hosted the first of several dance programs. That night's line-up included the Minnesota Dance Theatre and the works of four modern choreographers curated by the Minnesota Independent Choreographers' Alliance (MICA): Diane Elliot, Rob Esposito, Georgia Stephens, and Patrick Scully. To mark the occasion, Scully programmed "Warsaw" with its original cast, including Davies and me, plus seven new men.

In his review for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Dispatch, Roy Close – the long-time critic, and later arts administrator and playwright, known for being always incisive and often underwhelmed – observed that, although "the orchestra did not play as well as it might have," the Ordway "passed with flying colors." My performing debut was not reviewed.
Zenon's entry at 324 • Photo James Davies

That weekend's showcases included shared evenings by the Ethnic Dance Theatre and Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre on Friday, and the New Dance Ensemble and Zenon Dance Company on Saturday. 

The Ordway's opening churned the presentation possibilities for Twin Cities dance makers. Summer programming continued on Nicollet Island in Minneapolis, and was joined by "Summer Dance '85" – followed a year later by "Summer Dance '86" – a presenting vehicle developed by MICA for the Ordway's Studio Theatre and its Drake Rehearsal Room.

Participating companies in the Ordway's first summer programming in July included the Nancy Hauser Dance Company, New Dance Ensemble, Minnesota Jazz Dance Company, Zenon Dance Company, and others. As my friends and I walked along Washington Street after one of the performances, fireworks lit the sky above the theater and the Mississippi River, prompting Vaike Radamus to liken the evening to the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Buenos Aires where she had lived years earlier.

Also that summer, Scully and Poonie Dodson presented a two-person program titled "Doppelgänger," June 6-8, that included a sequel to "Warsaw." Held at the St. Stephen's School Gymnasium, two blocks from my house, the performances foreshadowed what would become Patrick's Cabaret as it emerged over that year at the same location. In October, the Minnesota Dance Theatre performed at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Minneapolis.

The first of many fall performances by Zenon Dance Company at the Ordway's Studio Theatre took place Dec. 5-8. Having spent the year attending jazz, modern, and ballet classes for four to seven days a week, I was enlisted into service as a stagehand.

MICA changed its name to the Minnesota Dance Alliance (MDA) in 1986 under the leadership of Bonnie Brooks, its executive director from November 1985 to 1988. Parenthetically, after leaving Minnesota, Brooks served on the staff of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and, later, became president and executive director of Dance/USA. In the latter role, she found herself on the front lines of the Congressional culture wars that sought to destroy the NEA, and that included the controversy attending a work by the performance artist Ron Athey at Patrick's Cabaret.

O'Shaughnessy Dance Series

Almost from its opening in 1970 on the campus of St. Catherine University, in a residential neighborhood of St. Paul, the 1,700-seat O'Shaughnessy Auditorium had become a performing home for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, and The Schubert Club. When, in 1984, the Ordway's pending arrival meant those organizations would decamp to the new venue downtown, O'Shaughnessy's manager, Karen LeBon, began to consider programming alternatives.

As recounted in a MICA newsletter, a market research study by Brad Morrison of Arts Development Associates recommended looking at dance. In response, LeBon contacted Judith Mirus, Brooks' predecessor at MICA. Mirus, in turn, put LeBon in touch with DancePak, an informal group of companies that met monthly to discuss common problems. Its six members included the Ethnic Dance Theatre, Minnesota Dance Theatre, Minnesota Jazz Dance Company, Nancy Hauser Dance Company, New Dance Ensemble, and Zenon Dance Company. It was originally organized by Andrews and Zenon in April 1983 to discuss the use of a potential cooperative dance theater.
Keith Thompson at 324 • 1989
Photo James Davies

Discussions in 1984 and 1985 led to plans for a six company series for at least two years. Susan Federbusch was hired as project manager of the O'Shaughnessy Dance Series and coordinated the merging of the companies' mailing lists for joint marketing. MICA provided production support for the series. Financial support was provided by the Northwest Area Foundation, Saint Paul Foundation, I.A. O'Shaughnessy Foundation, and Deluxe Checkprinters Foundation. 

The first series of performances, in 1986, spanned the months of March to May. I reviewed all of them for Fresh Fruit on KFAI and, when I could, attended rehearsals as well as performances.

The O'Shaughnessy Dance Series represented the first time that a distribution and marketing system for dance products was put in place on a large scale in the Twin Cities. Like the processes of creation and production of dance, those of its presentation have inherent flaws from a free market perspective. The object is not the maximizing of shareholder value, but of consumer value. (Please save your arguments about the intrinsic value of the arts for another time.) Most dance producers and presenters, including those operating to the highest standards, cannot generate the volume of sales needed for sustainability. Getting and keeping sufficient financing into all parts of the system is the eternal conundrum and challenge.

Initially, O'Shaughnessy's series secured financing from corporate and foundation sources to cover most of its facility and production overhead, and to guarantee a fee to the participating companies. In 1986, each of six companies received $3,000 for three performances, plus 75% of the amount by which the box office revenue exceeded $6,000. The guarantee for 1987 was $3,500.

Then, as now, $3,000 was a nice hunk of change. It did not, however, begin to compensate the companies for all of their costs of creation and production. The Minnesota Dance Theatre, for example, found the gap between costs and income too great to permit its participation in 1987, and it was replaced in the line-up by the Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre. 

In 1988, O'Shaughnessy presented seven companies: Ballet Harren, Ethnic Dance Theatre, Maria Cheng Dance Company, Nancy Hauser Dance Company, New Dance Ensemble, Zenon Dance Company, and Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre. In 1989, the series included four companies: Ethnic Dance Theatre, New Dance Ensemble, Zenon Dance Company, and Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre. 

Change and crisis at Zenon

In part, the Ozone/Zenon school had benefited from the disco craze and the residual interest in dance generated by release of the film "Saturday Night Fever" in 1977. A cohort of young people flocked to classes to improve their dance floor technique, sex appeal, and overall fitness. As this group moved along in life, however, the school felt a slow tightening in the tuition that fueled it. Simultaneously, the Warehouse District was being gentrified and rents at the Wyman Building were increasing. 

According to its annual report, income for Zenon's fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 1985, totaled $112,959. Performances brought in $10,153, donations $25,489, and tuition $71,246. Rentals and workshops, including one in Limon technique with Laura Glenn, accounted for the rest. To realize efficiencies, Zenon and New Dance Ensemble shared some of the costs of daily, advanced ballet classes for both companies during the winter and spring of 1985.

To secure its survival, Zenon moved its studios in May 1985 across downtown to 324 Fifth Avene South. The two-story building was 80-some years old and had been built as a carriage house, a place where horses and their wagons were lodged and stored. In the late 1970s, as Scully recalled, the building had been home to the Contactworks Dance Studio, Palace Theater, and other artists. Zenon's cash reserves and a substantial amount of sweat equity were expended to make part of the second floor marginally suitable with two studios for classes and rehearsals. To accomplish the move, Zenon cancelled its spring performances. This reduced its income and temporarily dampened its visibility in the marketplace.

This facility offered some new amenities: natural lighting from windows to the street (which, facing south, became blindingly hot in the summer sun absent air conditioning), resilient wood floors (whose cracks between the boards allowed exhaust fumes to migrate from the parking garage below), showers, and a student lounge area. Heat was provided by large space heaters suspended from the ceilings; these were turned on only as needed, and on the coldest days of winter the office staff wore coats, hats, and gloves.

Over the next four years, the roof above the main studio began regularly to leak like a sieve, either from thawing snow in the spring or any time it rained in the summer. To deal with this, a series of large plastic bags was hung from the ceiling. To these were attached garden hoses that looped across the space to drain water through open windows to the sidewalk below. On a couple occasions, a hose clogged and a bag broke delivering its contents to the dance floor, through the cracks, and onto the cars parked downstairs.

In 1984-85, the school served a population primarily of avocational adults, and operated with a teaching staff of 15-25 accompanists and instructors, many of them performers in the dance company. Approximately 250 students attended multiple classes per week on a session basis. Each quarterly session realized 400-600 students on a single class basis. Overall, approximately 300-500 different individuals came through the doors weekly.
324 Fifth Avenue South, Minneapolis • Zenon's home 1985-1989
Entry to stairs at lower left, below "Z" • Photo James Davies

In many realms of commerce, including those of dance classes and performances, location figures into consumers' buying decisions. All of us are creatures of habit, and geographic changes that impact our patterns of behavior may be unwelcome and often cannot be accommodated. Whenever one's address changes, there are those who will follow one anywhere, those who will stop by once in a while, and those who will drop one altogether. Developing new customers at the new location takes time. This is what happened with the relocation of Zenon Dance School later in 1985 and early in 1986.

When Maloney left in 1985 to take a position with the St. Paul YWCA, Beth Hennessy was promoted from school director to managing director, and a new school director was hired. Maloney's subsequent career in arts administration has included stints as managing director of Intermedia Arts, director of the Minnesota Alliance for Arts in Education, interim program manager at the Minnesota State Arts Board, and initiator of the New Bohemian Arts Cooperative.

Zenon had several positives going for it. It had received a $15,000 Excellence in the Arts award from the McKnight Foundation, and a consultancy with the Foundation for the Extension and Development of the American Professional Theater (FEDAPT). It enjoyed regular and generally positive reviews from Close at the St. Paul newspaper and from Mike Steele at the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. In addition to the Ordway, it performed at Macalester College, Normandale Community College, and the St. Anthony Main Jazz Festival. The repertoire contained new and existing works by Donald Byrd, Madeline Dean, Diane Elliott, Larry Hayden, Marvette Knight, Linda Shapiro, Wil Swanson, and Lewis Whitlock. 

Amid clouds of financial gloom gathering around Zenon early in 1986, I had supper a couple times in February and April with Keith Thompson, a dancer and jazz instructor to whom I give the credit for my taking up a career in arts administration. We went to Oliver's restaurant on Lyndale Avenue, a short walk from where we both lived, so we could give business to a dancer and ballet instructor who moonlighted there as a waitron. At our April 4 meal, Thompson plaintively told me that lower enrollment and dire finances had required laying off the school director. Further, that Andrews had told the board of directors she had no reserve left to handle administrative matters after the growth and stress of the previous eight years. Something was going to give, and dancers worried that the organization might fold.

I had put thoughts about graduate school in psychology behind me, but remained ambivalent about applying to law school. After 13 years as a legal assistant, however, it was time for some kind of change in my career. I had marveled at the perennial struggles of the partners in the law firm where I worked and their unending efforts to keep their small business afloat financially. They were highly competent and successful, but there was never any rest. They might pay employees on Friday, but two weeks later we wanted money again. I had wondered if I could weather the vicissitudes of entrepreneurial enterprise and, as Thompson and I talked, a light bulb turned on: It was time to find out. I was spending $1,100 a year on dance classes. I called Andrews two days later and offered to work for 10 months for $8,000 plus free classes; my savings would supplement.

We finalized those terms at a meeting on Friday, April 18. Hennessy and I would be co-managers. I would start on August 18, after returning from a six-week trip with Davies to England, France, Italy, India, and Hong Kong. The whole thing was crazy, but as I wrote to a correspondent, "Life is short, and there are more important things to it than money."

With more bravado than brains, I told my mentors at the law firm that I was "going to take this dance company to New York."

A few good men

When the dancers returned to work in August, we started the new season with a burst of enthusiasm accompanied by a couple of demoralizing wrinkles. In mid-August, one of the male dancers took a job with a company in Boston, requiring a fast scramble to hold replacement auditions in time for the fall performances in October.

At the same time, we discovered that the VCR used by the company to review and learn dances from videotapes had gone missing. When there is no extra money in the till, one does not run down to the electronics store for a replacement. Circumstances suggested that it was an inside job by a student in the school. We put out the word that there would not be consequences, but we did want the VCR back. I received a call a couple days later from a man acting as intermediary for another, who returned it from his apartment.
Registration and lobby at 324 • Dancers's lounge
behind partition with posters • Photo James Davies

Finding and retaining male dancers to staff an ensemble, let alone those with artistic competence, posed a recurring conundrum for Zenon as it did for companies everywhere. As I discovered from experience, the mere presence of a man with two unbroken legs can inspire absurd displays of desperation and hope. In March 1986, I missed several ballet classes at Zenon while traveling for my job.

On the road, I arranged to attend class at a professional school. I called ahead for the schedule of beginning levels and arrived an hour early. The staffer at the desk went bananas when I walked in, exclaiming they did not have more than a handful of men and only a few more boys in the place, and certainly no one from another state. She could not quiz me fast enough about what level I was at and how it compared to their system. [How would I know?] She 'just knew' that I might want to join the class being taught by their only male instructor, then underway. Before I could say anything, she called him out. He was friendly and sweating as he introduced himself and said he would be pleased for me to join, but I was 15 minutes late and would not be able to warm up. He suggested I take another class down the hall which was just beginning.

As I walked into that room, the instructor fell all over herself to welcome me and carried on that whatever level I was at I should stand at the back and just follow along. There were 25 women, age about 16, two in their 20s, and one in her 30s. All wore toe shoes for what was an advanced class. I did some, and tried all, of the barre work, and when the center work began I staggered around until the hour was up.

When I got to the class I had originally wanted, they had completed pliés and tendues, so I joined in on ron de jombs. When we finished, the instructor said, "You have all done it wrong, let's go on." After we did degajes, she said, "You have all done it wrong, let's go on." So it went for the whole time. After three hours in the place, no one asked for payment. I did not return on future trips, but was grateful to have had the experience.

Knowing one's own

Zenon's weekly school offerings that fall included nine levels of jazz, eight of ballet, and six of modern – 35 classes in all. The marketing vehicle of choice was a quarterly schedule printed on two sides of an 11" x 17" page and folded in fourths. Schedules, and postcards noticing company performances, were distributed via bulk mailings to the people on the mailing list.

Unlike many arts organizations then and, amazingly, still today, Zenon kept track of its class and performance attendees with a zeal approaching the religious that remains totally necessary regardless of the tedium involved. If an artistic entity does not know who its past customers are, then it may as well invite strangers on the street to buy a ticket or make a donation; the resulting return of near zero will be the same.

In 1986, Zenon's list of 10,000 names and addresses was maintained on Scriptomatic master cards. These 3" x 10" cards had a shaved space at the top end to type names and addresses. They were filed alphabetically and maintained at the school's check-in/registration desk. When it came time to issue a mailing, one packed a lunch, picked up cartons of freshly printed matter from the print shop, and proceeded with the Scriptomatic cards to the Shingle Creek Park Building on the northern city limits of Minneapolis. There, one ran cards and printed matter through a "manually operated addressing machine" for the better part of a day. Once addressed, everything was returned to the studio to be re-sorted and packaged by zip code before transport to the post office. Depending on the press of other business, the whole process could involve part time efforts by a dozen people over a week's time. 
Danny Buraczeski at 324 • 1989
Photo James Davies

As archaic as the process was, it worked. However, Shingle Creek was going to stop offering its Scriptomatic service at the end of the year, and it was time for Zenon's process to modernize. A friend of mine offered the use of the computer in her office located in downtown St. Paul on nights and weekends when she was not present. On that basis, I manually entered the data for 6,050 constituents at odd times between September and late November; I finished the remaining 4,000 by early January 1987. Once addresses were in the system, labels could be printed in zip code order, eliminating the need to re-sort. 

Four times during each of the next four years, I pulled an overnight shift in St. Paul to update additions, deletions, and corrections for the mailing list and print sets of labels for upcoming needs. Labels printed out at the rate of 1,000 each 32 minutes, requiring five to six hours for the entire list.

I marvel at the artists, executive directors, fundraisers, and marketers who pride themselves on knowing their business and yet abhor anything to do with the minutia of mailing list maintenance. They believe it is beneath them and that all of it can be painlessly and accurately automated and outsourced. They deceive themselves. One gains a deep, intuitive feel for one's constituents by following their changes of address and patterns of attendance and donations. People affiliate with artistic enterprises in large part because they are seeking some kind of relationship. They are not dumb, and can gauge from the impersonality of one's communications how much their relationship and business are valued. The handwritten notes I received from Dillard and Shapiro at New Dance Ensemble kept me sending donation checks even after I was subsidizing my work for Zenon. As Jesus said, "I know my own, and my own know me."

Making art, raising money

For the dancers, the season's first activity was an appearance at "Carnaval '86 The Year of the Arts." This ranked with the funkier things we did to gain exposure and cultivate friends. The event was a fundraiser for United Arts, a federated effort that redistributed money to select arts organizations. The New Dance Ensemble had been a recipient of generous allocations, and we hoped to join the roster. Our participation had been arranged by a Zenon board member, and included the dancers' arriving at the party by descending the lobby escalator of the Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Company in St. Paul attired in skin tight costumes from a jazz dance work. In spite of this and subsequent overtures, Zenon never secured an invitation to United Arts' big table. This was a source of recurring disappointment at the time, but the lack of inclusion, in retrospect, probably made us stronger.

The fall performances at the Ordway Studio Theatre, Oct. 23-26, seemed to arrive and depart quickly, with a program of choreography by Lynn Simonson, Hannah Kahn, Wil Swanson, and Marvette Knight.

Sometime that fall, a grant application for funding of three choreographic residencies during the year was not approved. This promised to seriously derail our creative capacity and ability to move forward in the succeeding 12-18 months. Fortunately, after some cultivation, Andrews was able to secure a one-time gift of $25,000 from an individual donor. This made possible a stellar lineup of commissions from Lynn Simonson, Danny Buraczeski, and Bebe Miller in the first half of 1987.

In December, we mailed a 6,050-piece fund appeal letter signed by Kate Orandi and Ted A. Ferrara, board members and co-chairs of the annual drive, along with a brochure promoting "Adopt A Dancer." The mailing violated every tenet of successful, direct mail fundraising: it used labels, bulk mail indicia, form letter, and no personal signature or handwritten note. In addition, it was all about us and our great work, and said little about the potential donor and the good work s/he could accomplish. (We learned about these deficiencies in the years ahead.) We did not expect to raise significant sums and were not disappointed. The mailing did serve the purpose of letting folks know we were alive and fighting.

Early in January 1987, our updated budget projections provided early warning that we could end the fiscal year on Aug. 31 with a deficit of $23,000 if we were not vigilant. In the doing, we ended within a couple hundred dollars of balancing our budget of $156,000. Getting from January to August was no small journey, and certainly not a straight line. God lives in the details. One can have all the hoity-toity visions and grandiose plans in the world, but the tedium of mundane management carries the day: wheedling, winnowing, and whittling everywhere. We never issued checks not covered by funds in the bank. However, there were many Friday paydays when I was keenly aware of who was out of town and would not pick up checks before Monday or Tuesday; their checks either stayed in my desk drawer or did not get written until I could deposit the weekend's tuition receipts on Monday morning. 
Studio 2, with a view, at 324 • 1989 • "Natural lighting from windows to the
street (which, facing south, became blindingly hot in the summer sun
absent air conditioning)." Photo James Davies

In the first half of 1987, we retained most of our preexisting corporate and foundation donors, picked up the 3M Foundation and The Gannett Foundation for the first time, and received what we interpreted as positive responses, with no checks, from others.

Our office infrastructure was rustic by today's standards. Two phone lines served all incoming and outgoing calls for the company and school, employees and students. Hennessy and I shared a single, IBM Selectric typewriter and planned our projects based on priority. All class registration and bookkeeping was handled with pencil and paper, as was all budgeting. The nearest copying place was three blocks away in the Midland Square Building at Fourth Street and Second Avenue, so we used "carbon-sets" to make multiple copies of typed documents. The nearest post office was on Fourth Avenue, down the alley by a block, on the first floor of the Grain Exchange Building.

In an effort to generate buzz and public relations momentum, we issued the most blockbuster press release we could muster, four pages, on Jan. 26: "Student Performances, Jacob's Pillow Auditions, Spring Classes, New Commissions, and O'Shaughnessy Dance Series Coalesce Into a Spring Festival of Dance for Zenon Dance Company and School."

To prepare for the out-of-town company and roll out a better looking "carpet," Andrews insisted that we order up a "marley" for the main studio, something that would cover the cracks between the boards and prevent splinters. Marley is a generic word for vinyl-type floor coverings that provide smooth, slip-resistant surfaces. It can be ordered in widths of five or six feet and cut to length. To cover an area 30' x 36' cost about $4,500, none of it in our budget. In terms of dancer and student goodwill, however, its value was priceless after its installation on Mar. 8.

We also spiffed-up the look of the spring class schedule. Previously, each new schedule was laid out with cut-and-paste pieces of earlier, typewritten information that did nothing to enhance our branding. We learned that the print shops near the University of Minnesota campus had new contraptions called MacIntosh computers. One could rent them by the hour and create printed documents with different type font sizes and styles. This we did. The pasted-up schedule still looked like crap, but new and improved. People noticed and liked the difference because they can tell when one is trying to write a coherent narrative with proper grammar, spelling, and format. God lives in the details, and therein lies salvation in the public marketplace.

I was told that the dancers always welcomed visits by Simonson, whose holistic jazz technique provided an oasis of calm focus. As director of the Jazz Project at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts, she brought the artistic director, Liz Thompson, to assist with auditions for the 1987 summer program. We had 60 dancers turn out to audition, comparable to the numbers they had seen in Chicago. Simonson stayed on for a few days afterward to teach class and set a short new work for the upcoming performances at O'Shaughnessy.

March was a busy month for all of us and, apparently, frustrating for me. Andrews talked to Stephen Petronio, a New York choreographer who was working at the Walker Art Center, about creating for Zenon. Buraczeski arrived to begin a two-week residency on Mar. 24. That same day, I wrote to a friend, "Fundraising is absolutely the pits. I would rather prostitute myself on the street corner. ... Petronio told Linda he pays his dancers in New York not at all, and Buraczeski was taken aback at how much we are trying to pay [$75 a week] because it's a lot more than he pays his dancers. It's just crazy."

Buraczeski formed "JAZZDANCE: The Danny Buraczeski Dance Company" in New York in 1979, and had developed a reputation as the country's leading choreographer of classical jazz. He and his partner, Les Johnson, stayed with Davies and me during part of the residency, the first of several times we were guests in each others' homes in Minneapolis and New York.

On Monday, April 6, I arrived for a 3pm meeting at the offices of the Bush Foundation in St. Paul, hoping to start a conversation that would succeed in securing a grant. Little did I know that it would take countless additional conversations, managing of two more dance companies, and 10 more years before I would succeed. When I did, it would be the first time the Foundation had made a grant to a dance producing company in Minnesota. I relate this to offer a ray of hope to other fundraisers; as the Foundation's staff and its consultants told me many times over the years, "Don't be discouraged!"

Buraczeski returned to town on Thursday, Apr. 23, for what was to have been our dress rehearsal at O'Shaughnessy. Instead, it was a day from hell. The costumes, all 10 of them, for his new dance, "Tanguedia," did not fit the dancers and had to be returned for immediate repairs. A dancer's 11th-hour injury required shifting personnel in the other works on the program and teaching all of "Tanguedia" from scratch to an apprentice. There never was a technical run-through.

Many free-market advocates chide artists and their organizations for not understanding the bottom line. Au contraire, we most certainly do. A colleague summed it up succinctly at a Dance/USA meeting several years ago: "The 8pm curtain is the ultimate bottom line, and we meet it time after time." So did Zenon on Apr. 24.

At the St. Paul newspaper, Close gave us a preview article on the 23rd, followed by Joan Timmis' review, "Zenon puts its spring energy into jazz dance," on the 26th. Steele's review, "Buraczeski's work for Zenon is a dazzler," followed in the Minneapolis newspaper on the 27th.

Moments of grace

To survive, season to season, whatever excess of toil and stress permeates a struggling arts organization, requires occasional leavening, if only for a moment. Behavioral psychologists call it a variable reinforcement schedule, when we receive just enough unexpected taste of a good thing to keep us foraging for more. All of us at Zenon enjoyed several days of such grace in late April and early May of 1987 when Buraczeski's new work was performed at O'Shaughnessy and Miller arrived for a three-week commissioning residency. I wrote to a dancer friend on May 4:
Linda Z. Andrews and Danny Buraczeski at 324 • 1989
Photo James Davies

Bebe arrived today and started to work. You should have seen the expressions on everyone's faces as they filed out of the studio for a break after the first 55 minutes – it's going to be a long three weeks! Bebe is very nice. And her movement seems to be quite powerful. Everyone is already talking about the December concert where the piece will be premiered, and what a hell of a show it will be to do Bebe's dance and Danny's new dance on the same program. ...
Danny's "Tanguedia" was superb. You have never seen a Zenon performance like the three put on at O'Shaughnessy last weekend. ... Sunday was a very emotional concert to watch – the audience started hooting and hollering and cheering from the opening curtain until after the last fadeout. Every segment, trio, duet, and solo...was applauded, plus a standing ovation at the end.
Linda has invited Danny to move here and (possibly?) merge the two companies. Such an event, if it ever happens, is a way off, but not out of the realm of possibility. Danny has responded favorably, initially.

The residency with Buraczeski had been something of a mutual love fest, as evidenced by his handwritten letter of May 9 thanking all of the dancers: Denise Armstead, Mary Harding, Deirdre Howard, Shawn McConneloug, Colleen Tague, Keith Thompson, Jane Shockley, Jonathan Urla, Christine Maginnis, Luc Bal. The letter ended with the words "I'm in love!"

Game on!

My 10 months' commitment ended in mid-June, and I would be off for the summer. I was inclined to not return. I was still thinking about law school, and had started to think about graduate work in journalism. Davies and I checked out the journalism program at the University of California's Berkeley campus while visiting San Francisco in August.
Gary Peterson • Oct. 10, 1987 • Fridley MN
Next day: Washington, D.C.

Hennessy's resignation notice on June 17 contributed to my ambivalence. In spite of the year's artistic successes, getting the business right was like dealing with a Gordian Knot. In the spring, the board of directors had started to examine and prepare for entering the charitable gaming business in suburban bowling alleys and bars to produce another revenue stream. As I wrote to a friend, "Everyone is counting on this to bail the organization out. ... It's a mess. I have never seen the like of it."

The company performed at Nicollet Island on June 19. The board of directors held its annual planning retreat on June 27. Andrews and I had occasional conversations about the future. However, it was a triple-barreled press release from our friends across downtown on July 30 that energized my competitive juices and sealed my decision to try another year: "Julie Buzard Named Executive Director of New Dance Ensemble"; "New Dance Ensemble Receives $24,100 in Funding from the Minnesota State Arts Board"; "New Dance Ensemble Selected to be Part of Young Audiences Roster for 1987-88." Our town was proud of these world traveling artists who had performed in Paris in March, and would appear on the Northrop Dance Series in November, but this was too much.

Game on, girlfriend!

The exceedingly hot and humid weather that hung over much of the United States in August 1987 prompted the installation of ceiling fans in the studios. Along with that month's heat, a series of severe storms ruptured a sewer line that required digging up 5th Avenue South outside 324. Classes continued for a week without bathrooms and running water.

Things moved quickly in the fall. As Hennessy moved on to a successful tenure leading the Tapestry Folkdance Center in Minneapolis, we conducted interviews for an office position and hired Carole Olson, who began work on Sept. 24. The company performed at the Benedicta Art Center in St. Joseph, Minnesota, Oct. 1. Davies and I attended the National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights, Oct. 11, and I brought back sound actualities for the Fresh Fruit broadcast on Oct. 15.

Zenon Dance Company played the Phipps Center for the Performing Arts in Hudson, Wisconsin, on Oct. 17, the same day that the Minnesota Twins played the first of seven games against the St. Louis Cardinals in a drive that won their first World Series Championship. If we had performed anywhere in Minnesota that day, no one would have attended.
Christine Maginnis and Jonathan Urla: poster dancers for 5th anniversary season
December 4-6, 1987

Our annual fund appeal drew its theme, "Pushing the Boundaries of Twin Cities Dance," from our commissions of new choreography. We mailed it earlier than usual, Nov. 6, to help drive interest in Miller's new work, "This Room Has No Windows, And I Can't Find You Anywhere," that would premiere at the renamed McKnight Theatre at the Ordway, Dec. 4-13. It would be the first time we presented over two weekends. James Sheeley, our advocate on the Ordway's programming staff, convinced us that we could build our audience draw with two performances on the first weekend and three on the second. He was right. He and his colleague, Mike Brand, helped make it happen.

The media, and our momentum from the spring program, also helped. To mark Zenon's fifth anniversary, Close assigned Donald J. Hutera to write a preview article, "The High Voltage Energy of Zenon," for the St. Paul newspaper. Hutera also placed an article about Miller in the Dec. 3 issue of Vinyl Arts. In Minneapolis, Steele weighed in with a more generic "Events will mark big moments in dance."

The afternoon dress rehearsal, Dec. 3, ran long and provided me with nerve-wracking moments. I was late catching the first of two buses from downtown St. Paul to KFAI's broadcast studios in south Minneapolis. Hugely embarrassed, I rushed into the waiting room 20 minutes late (the previous programmer had stayed over) to greet my Fresh Fruit interview guests: state Senator Allan Spear, state Representative Karen Clark, Minneapolis Council Member Brian Coyle, Civil Rights Commission Director Emma Hixson, and civil rights Commissioner Tim Cole.

Miller's "This Room" was a hit with audiences, and the review headlines were over the top: "Zenon dancers meet new challenge" (Timmis, St. Paul) and "Ebullience, commitment shine through in Zenon's best concert ever" (Steele, Minneapolis).

Late in December, word circulated that Minnesota's governor, Rudy Perpich, would support placing a line-item in the state's general fund budget to finance the NorthWest Ballet, based in Minneapolis. Perpich spent much time during his terms in office flying around the country scouting for opportunities that would produce jobs in Minnesota. One of his initiatives resulted in the building of the Mall of America in Bloomington, a project that has produced untold millions of tourist visits from around the globe and hundreds of millions in tax receipts. However, his proposal to support the NorthWest Ballet, while well intended, was outrageous.

Zenon was not the only dance company struggling to pay its bills. After one too many financial crises of its own, the board of directors at the Minnesota Dance Theatre fired its artistic director and founder, Loyce Houlton, and then started merger discussions with the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle. The merging of dance companies in different cities had become somewhat fashionable in an attempt to achieve operational efficiencies. Supposedly, Perpich had seen one of the stellar productions for which the Seattle company was famous under the direction of Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, and offered enthusiastic gubernatorial support to create something like it in Minnesota.

Unfortunately for the governor and NorthWest Ballet, we did not do things that way in Minnesota. We still don't. Years before, the collective we had formed the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts ("MCA"), a statewide membership and lobbying organization. MCA convinced the Minnesota Legislature to create the Minnesota State Arts Board and the 11 Regional Arts Councils to re-grant appropriations made from the general fund. No one, including the Guthrie Theater and the Minnesota Orchestra, got a line-item appropriation.

To his credit, in 1985, Perpich had proposed and steered through the legislature creation of a public high school for the arts; it would open in 1989, and is known today as the Perpich Center for Arts Education. Thus, his proposal for special funding of one dance company had to be taken seriously. I wrote to him, Jan. 6, taking his idea to task, with carbon-set copies mailed to half the world, including Cynthia Mayeda, director of the Dayton Hudson Foundation, and Brooks at the MDA. The proposal withered away quietly, and the NorthWest Ballet hired Ted Kivitt, long-time director of the combined Milwaukee Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet, as the new leader of its school and company – one that had no local dancers.

It was in this milieu that Andrews, Buraczeski, and I started flirting with and pursuing our own version of a two-city merger of dance companies.

Gambling with pull-tabs

During the 1980s, charitable gambling in Minnesota increased exponentially, with sales of pull-tabs overtaking bingo as the most popular form. By 1988, the state's Charitable Gambling Control Board licensed 3,400+ organizations with gross receipts of $700 million. Licenses had to be renewed annually and, in Minneapolis, required city council approval. Zenon Dance Company held a pull-tab license from early-1988 through April 1991 for booth space we rented in The Little Wagon Bar and Restaurant, located next to our studios. We offered three games for sale at the same time, usually for $1 per ticket.

Assuming that an average $1 game might have 1,800 tickets and that all were sold, gross receipts would be $1,800. Prizes averaged 80%, or $1,440. Of the remaining $360, the state tax was 10%, or $36, and the city tax was 3%, or $10.80. The remaining $313.20 represented gross profit, of which 40%, or $125.80 could be spent on expenses, primarily game purchases, booth space rental, and payroll for pull-tab sellers. In theory, one had $187.40 remaining that could be designated by our board of directors for charitable purposes. The theory worked if all tickets sold. Quite often, however, the luck of the draw favored purchasers with early payouts of the highest prizes; when this happened, they stopped buying and the "dead" game had to be pulled with its unsold tickets.
The Little Wagon, 4th Street and 5th Avenue South, Minneapolis • 1989
Site of Zenon's charitable gambling empire • Photo James Davies

As I recall, we realized our highest net profit in the first year of operation, totaling about $23,000. This meant that approximately $230,000 of cash sales transactions flowed through the till. Our board used the operation to subsidize Zenon Dance School's scholarship program under the "education" purpose allowed by the state.

The operation was labor intensive, and required a designated gambling manager to supervise all purchases, expenditures, and personnel. Receipts and prize payouts for each game had to be reconciled, deposits taken to the bank, and monthly reports filed with the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Initially, Olson served as gambling manager. When she moved to the East Coast in the spring of 1988, one of our board members assumed the duties, which, over time, found their way to me.

In general, our pull-tab booth was staffed for the lunch trade, 11am to 3pm, and again from 4pm to whenever sales tapered off in the evening. We had a regular cadre of lunch and after work customers, the bulk of whom were employees of the Star Tribune newspaper, located a block distant, and the lawyers and court workers who had patronized the Wagon for years.

The case for modern dance

In forming Zenon Dance Company, Andrews was committed to developing and maintaining a repertoire of both modern and jazz works. Planet Earth had no dearth of modern choreographers, but the number of jazz masters was small, and none had the engaging depth of a Buraczeski. The success of his work with Zenon in April 1987 had prompted Andrews to invite him to join the company as resident jazz choreographer. That he reacted positively to the idea left room for further thought and discussion.

We had a few more thoughts. The ideas and styles of the choreographers that Zenon and New Dance Ensemble had brought to the Twin Cities through their commissions had gained the notice of audiences and hometown artists. We began to see how having someone of Buraczeski's stature in the community could serve as both anchor and magnet to stimulate and raise the level of choreography across the board. In so doing, modern dance might emerge from its also-ran status in the competition with ballet and other artistic disciplines for visibility, audiences, and resources. Our puzzle was how to make it happen.
Linda Z. Andrews and Danny Buraczeski at 324 • May 1989
Photo James Davies

As summer morphed into fall in 1987, we needed to check-in with Cynthia Gehrig, president of the Jerome Foundation, relative to our application for financial support. As we prepared to meet, Andrews told me she was going to ask Gehrig for advice. "I think – hope – she can help us figure this out." As I recall, our conversation with Gehrig covered many details about Zenon and the Twin Cities dance community. She responded with alert interest to the notion of Buraczeski moving to Minnesota, and mentioned that the Northwest Area Foundation ("NWAF") had a relatively new program intended to build leadership and capacity that might offer the kind of assistance we needed. I believe at that same meeting that Gehrig also floated the idea that Jerome might consider how it could participate if NWAF expressed an interest. 

Jerome was located on the sixth floor in the west wing of the First National Bank Building in downtown St. Paul. NWAF was on the 10th floor. Gehrig suggested we stop up to introduce ourselves and our ideas to Karl Stauber, a program officer. She called ahead to tell him we were coming. Andrews and I had not anticipated receiving so much helpful advice so quickly. As we climbed four flights of fire stairs we remarked to each other how amazing it would be if something actually came of all this.

Long story short: Stauber described the intentions, parameters, and mechanics of NWAF's program, and said his directors would be willing to consider a proposal for three years of support at about $75,000 a year. Subsequently, Gehrig told us that if NWAF ended up making a grant, her directors at Jerome would entertain a proposal to support the outside choreography for three years at $25,000 a year. 

Zenon's board of directors began crafting a three-year plan on Saturday morning, Nov. 21. This was followed by evening meetings on Tuesday, Dec. 19, and Monday, Feb. 1. With the dancers and students on hiatus, Andrews and I spent several planning hours together on New Year's Eve day. These were only some of many conversations and meetings in, and between, Minneapolis and New York over the next six months.

Davies and I visited New York, Jan. 23-26, 1988, to attend performances by JAZZDANCE at the 470-seat Joyce Theater, located on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea. In eight performances over six days, the company sold 92% of capacity. In her review for The New York Times, Jan. 21, Anna Kisselgoff wrote that "Buraczeski has hit the jackpot with the new choreography" his company was presenting. The woman did not lie!

Both Mark Dendy and Charles Wright from New York were in residence at Zenon during February. Buraczeski came in, Mar. 6-13, to conduct "A Music and Choreography Workshop for Minnesota Choreographers" and to create "Impending Bloom" for our spring performances at O'Shaughnessy. He, Andrews, and I met on the 13th before he left town. Stauber and I met, Mar. 28, to make sure our developing plans were in sync with his program's expectations.

Zenon performed in the O'Shaughnessy Dance Series, Apr. 14-16. I updated Dale Schatzlein at the Northrop Dance Series about our plans, Apr. 20. Andrews and I met at the New French Cafe in Minneapolis, Apr. 22. The company performed at the Guthrie Theater with the Moore by Four jazz singers, Apr. 23, in a benefit for the Emergency Food Shelf Networks organized by Lowell Pickett, one of our board members and the proprietor of The Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant.

Andrews and I went to New York, Friday-Sunday, Apr. 29-May 1, to meet for the first time with Buraczeski's management team, Lisa Booth and Deirdre Valente, of Lisa Booth Management, Inc. (LBMI). In working with him over a period of years, their collective efforts had been indispensable in gaining the fame and artistic success he enjoyed. There were questions to talk through about how we might continue marketing the all jazz programming that had been built for JAZZDANCE within Zenon's mixed-repertoire identity, whether and how fast there might be any touring demand for a mixed-rep, and how to balance it all out. While we were in town, Buraczeski took us to hear Sarah Vaughan at the Blue Note Jazz Club in lower Manhattan. Vaughan received the Jazz Masters' Award from the NEA the following year.

I submitted our proposals to NWAF and Jerome in May.
Gary Peterson, office at 324 with window to the reception area • 1989
"On the coldest days of winter the office staff wore coats, hats,
and gloves." Photo James Davies

After Olson's departure in the spring, Andrews and I tag-teamed the running of the company and school with the assistance of a core group of work-study students. Throughout the summer, we met with potential board members. One of them, on June 2, was a young attorney named Mary Pawlenty. She and her husband, Tim, also an attorney, were looking to build their professional networks and nascent law practices through service on boards of directors and other activities.

When it was slated for demolition, I spent two days inside the Sheraton-Ritz Hotel at Fourth Street and the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, using a screw driver and pliers to rescue 18 mirrors from their installations above the bathroom sinks. Their size, 3' x 5', was perfect for lining the walls of the new Studio 3 that we were rehabbing and bringing into service at 324. One of the dancers installed the mirrors in the studio and sanded the floor before fall classes began. The hotel was demolished later in the year.

On Friday, Aug. 5, we met Catherine Jordan for lunch at Faegre's in the Warehouse District. Jordan was a consultant for the NWAF, helping conduct its due diligence on our grant application. These site visits, as they are called, are intended to allow for a degree of informal candor. I remember Jordan telling us that one of the out-of-state people with whom she had spoken remarked that our project would be challenging, but that if anyone could make it work Andrews and Buraczeski could.

Privately, Andrews and I felt we really needed this quantum leap to keep the company moving forward.

Moving on up

The call came later in September. Stauber told me that the directors of the Northwest Area Foundation had had a lengthy and spirited discussion about our application. "They are dubious about your chances for success," he said, "but they want you to try, and have authorized a grant of $225,000 over three years." At the time, it was one of the largest grants NWAF had ever made to an arts organization.

In the weeks before receiving this news, I had spent some hours pacing and smoking in the alley behind the studios, wondering if we really were ready to take this on. It was during those pacings that I developed a Q-and-A test for myself: Question – "What's the worst thing that can happen here?" Answer – "It won't work and 'they' will put my name in the newspaper and call me incompetent." Question – "If that happened, could you live with it?" Answer – "Yes." Conclusion – "Then anything short of that is a gift, and you can deal."

The last quarter of 1988 was a memorable blur. Buraczeski's JAZZDANCE company came to town to perform at the Ordway, Oct. 7-9, with a special guest appearance by the Zenon company. As I watched the panoply of his choreography cross the stage from my seat in the McKnight Theater, I could not believe that all of this was coming to Minnesota. We had nothing like it! 

We hosted residencies with Doug Varone, Hannah Kahn, and Erin Thompson between Oct. 10 and Nov. 8. We held a Halloween costume party and sock hop, Oct. 28, that included a sit-up contest to raise money! The Jerome directors authorized a grant of $75,000 over three years in November, after we had finalized a contract between Zenon and Buraczeski.

Early in October, Mary Jo Peloquin lightened our door, offering to volunteer in any way she could. She had taken a class with Andrews during the Ozone days at the Wyman Building, and had been impressed by the feeling of welcome and inclusion. Peloquin had graduated with a BFA degree in dance from Temple University in Philadelphia, and was working at a small law firm. She quickly proved so competent and reliable that when Andrews and I met on Dec. 13, we decided we wanted to keep her until the grant period started the following September. When Peloquin and I met on Dec. 15, she was agreeable to working on a part-time, hourly basis with us for more than eight months.
Danny Buraczeski leads a last dance rehearsal at 324's Studio 1 • May 1989 • Photo James Davies

Zenon Dance Company presented two weekends of performances at the Ordway, Dec. 2-11, offering a program that included choreography by Keith Young, Linda Shapiro, Mark Dendy, and Laurie De Vito.

Zenon and JAZZDANCE issued a joint, three-page press release, Feb. 15, 1989. We announced the two foundation grants; that Buraczeski would move to Minnesota and join Zenon in September as co-artistic director and resident jazz choreographer; we would produce two seasons in the Twin Cities annually at the Ordway with a mix of modern and jazz choreography; and we would perform as Jazzdance by Danny Buraczeski for engagements desiring an all-jazz program.

The grants provided us with the means to increase our budget from $223,000 in fiscal 1989, to a projected $498,000 in 1990. The new budget included increased pay for the dancers, although still far from approaching a "living wage." The NWAF award was neither a flat grant nor a matching grant; it operated on an incentive basis: as we secured receipts and pledges for set percentages of our projected budgets throughout each year, the foundation would release a portion of its grant funds. JAZZDANCE had generated $100,000 in tour bookings in 1989, and we reasonably assumed that interest in its programming would continue, even if at a reduced level. Also, JAZZDANCE had secured grants from the NEA and the New York State Council on the Arts to support a season at the Joyce. Booth and Valente were instrumental in facilitating our successful application to split a week of programming in December between Jazzdance and Zenon Dance.

There was another positive development, one we had not planned. When the Minnesota Dance Theatre/NorthWest Ballet went out of business early in 1989, five floors of space with seven free-span dance studios came on the market at the Hennepin Center for the Arts. Built as a Masonic temple, the building had been renovated for use by dance and other arts organizations in 1979. Through its lease, the ballet had maintained control over who could sublease space, and Zenon with its school was not welcome. That changed when we arrived on Mar. 24 to stake a claim on the fourth floor, which was configured for use as a school, with a large lobby, registration desk, two large studios, changing rooms with showers, storage area, and offices. The building had heat, air conditioning, a new roof, and decent dance floors.

Owing to a complicated system of metering utilities, the building's management was not able to determine the cost of operating the component parts. We were more or less asked to name our price. We offered to pay combined monthly rent and utilities of $500 for June, July, and August, and agreed to a long-term lease, beginning Sept. 1, with tight caps on rent and utility escalation. Andrews raged that the terms – combined annual rent and utilities of just over $2/square foot for 7,500 square feet – were highway robbery. I argued that we weren't the ones being held up.

Moving days always are fraught with tedium and drama. We managed all of the move from 324 to the Hennepin Center in one long day – I returned the rented truck after midnight. The one-way streets of downtown were perfect for making circular runs. Peloquin, Davies, Andrews, and I spent several hours maneuvering 18 mirrors from the Sheraton Ritz down the long staircase so we did not impale ourselves on broken shards of glass; there were no casualties of mirrors or people.

JAZZDANCE presented its farewell performance at the Theater of the Riverside Church in New York, the scene of many of its earlier performances. Zenon's new board president, Susan Ladwig, and I attended the Apr. 2 festivities. Zenon Dance Company performed in its last O'Shaughnessy Dance Series, May 4-6. When Zenon Dance School opened for business at the Hennepin Center, June 5, we had less than $500 in the bank, but it felt like trading in an outboard motor boat for the Queen Mary.

To the moon and back

The fall of 1989 was a period of furiously focused and frenzied activity. To prepare for an evening "Informance" and gala fundraiser in our new space, Sept. 14, the dancers and artistic directors worked on the dancing program by day. With paint donated by Valspar, all of us turned the battle-ship gray of the walls to white by night. Peloquin and I pulled an all-nighter, Sept. 13, to apply two coats of paint to the main studio; we took turns climbing down to move the two-story scaffolding around the room. 

Three modern and five jazz dances had to be pulled together or created for the December performances in St. Paul and New York. Ellen Jacobs, New York's premiere dance publicist, came to town, Oct. 30-31, to get a feel for this old/new company with two names.
Gary Peterson in Zenon office at Hennepin Center • 1989
"Sign the mailing list. You never know where it will lead."
Photo James Davies

Just because we had been given a boat-load of grant money did not mean we had any cash to spend. The costs of performing in New York, then and now, should cause Twin Cities artists to count their blessings in their business dealings with any of the venues at their disposal here. To rent the Joyce for a week cost something on the order of $15,000 at the time, and had to be paid in-full weeks in advance; that was in addition to the security deposit. Publicity and advertising also had to be fronted to the tune of $20,000.

As we wrestled with how to pay for airfares, my partner, James Davies, offered up a new-fangled piece of unsolicited mail he had received from the University of Arizona where he obtained his MA degree. It was a blank check on which one could enter any amount up to $5,000. Even our board members had no idea if this thing was legitimate, but we took his loan, deposited the check, and flew everyone to New York. About 10 days after each engagement ends, the Joyce issues a settlement accounting and a check for the net proceeds of the box office sales. In mid-December, we received approximately $65,000 and could pay our bills and loans.

At the Ordway, Sheeley and his colleagues provided us with sterling production and marketing assistance to present three different programs: Jazzdance and Zenon Dance alternating on Dec. 1 and 2, and a hybrid of the two on Dec. 15-17. Drawing on my memory, we garnered an audience of 1,250 for the five performances, 79% of capacity. Those were the kinds of numbers we were hoping to achieve.

Jazzdance by Danny Buraczeski presented an ambitious evening of work at the Joyce, Tuesday, Dec. 5. Words cannot capture the excitement felt in the theater as Andre Shoals advanced elegantly downstage to open "Blue on the Moon," set to music by Sidney Bechet. Writing in the Times, Dec. 7, Jennifer Dunning said "Mr. Buraczeski has two new winners with 'Blue on the Moon' and 'Monkish.'" She also liked the new "Ancestral Voices" and "Merry Go Round," just not as much, and loved the revival of "Lost Life: Four Scenes From the Life of Art Pepper."

Jack Anderson, in his review published Dec. 10, also liked the "spirited" new "Blue on the Moon" and "Monkish" that were part of the Zenon Dance program. "Zenon looked particularly effective," he wrote, "in Bebe Miller's 'This Room Has No Windows, and I Can't Find You Anywhere,'" and thought it overpowered Wil Swanson's "Aubade." His review also offered suggestions for how Stephanie Skura might improve "The Fantasy World of Bernard Herrmann."

After the rush of activity in the fall, life at Zenon tried to find a new normal within the new structure and space. Classes took place. Choreography was created. We kept trying to raise money. 

In the spring, Bill T. Jones took over our studios and premises for a few days to prepare for the premiere of "The Promised Land," the last section of his epic work, "The Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin." It was a mammoth project, commissioned jointly by the Northrop Dance Series and the Walker Art Center, and involved most of the town's dancers, more than 40 in all, in addition to the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.

Randy Warshaw, a former dancer with the Trisha Brown Dance Company, stayed with Davies and me when he arrived in the spring to set "Event Horizon" for the May Ordway performances. The work had premiered in New York in January as part of the Joyce's "Manmade" series. His Randy Warshaw Dance Company was on LBMI's roster of artists. Immediately after the Ordway show, Jazzdance by Danny Buraczeski undertook a 10-day tour of Switzerland, part of the Steps Dance Festival. I spent a few days in New York, making calls on potential funders.
Linda Z. Andrews and Danny Buraczeski • 1989
Photo James Davies

One of the exciting and challenging aspects of our merged enterprise was to develop a working model for how two very bright, creative, and strong individuals could find their way working together. On August 2, Ladwig and I traveled to Washington for orientation into the NEA's Advancement Program, arriving amid the news that Saddam Hussein's Iraqi troops were invading Kuwait. We had applied for Advancement the previous fall at the suggestion of Booth and Valente. The program offered management and planning advice and technical assistance, and required extensive, organization-wide planning meetings over time. Master and committee schedules were circulated to the board of directors, Aug. 14.

Within a month, our assigned consultant had sprung the funds we needed to purchase the first computer for Zenon's office and, among other needed projects, Peloquin began bringing the mailing list in-house. As she worked with the capabilities of the new computer, we were able to sort data and gain new insights. Statistically, we finally determined that 1,200 different people attended Zenon Dance School annually, with no double-counting. More important, we discovered that we served two very distinct audiences. Of all the constituents in our database, only 26% of those who were students ever attended concert performances, and only 20% of those who attended performances ever attended classes. The concept of segmentation is routine today, but was novel to us then.

We always had assumed that a reason why Zenon Dance Company enjoyed larger audiences than those of other companies was because "everyone in the school" attended performances. We felt a touch of disappointment when we realized that students might prefer learning dance over watching it. This kind of information has power, however. One can find printing and postage savings in a budget, for example, by eliminating those who attend concerts from promotional material about classes, and by omitting most of the students from mailings about performances. Neither will harm enrollment or attendance. Our findings also held implied support for another conclusion: the vitality and quality of choreography and dancing both had much to do with attracting audiences. 

Crafting the organization's workplan and budget of $343,000 for fiscal 1991 during August proved particularly challenging for all of us. Our vision for the three years of our enterprise had made assumptions about how we wanted our world to change, how the world worked, and how we would get there. When God lives in the details, a couple atoms of difference can alter the manifestation of the universe. In retrospect we were moving too fast, trying to accomplish too much by more than doubling in size over three years. One critical line item of our budget was underfunded: time in the realm of fundraising. We had made, and continued to make, great strides in broadening the membership of the board of directors. We left no stone unturned trying to introduce ourselves to potential donors. Effective fundraising, however, relies on strong relationships, and those only develop and deepen over time with engagements that seek to match interests with opportunities and possibilities. 

Like a gathering storm, a little shortfall here, added to another there, soon requires compromises and departures from plans. Inevitably, tensions rise. The dynamic becomes wearing and wearying. Left unchecked, the magic wanes and the meaning becomes madness.

I was ready for some new magic when Susana di Palma arrived for a ballet class early in January 1991. It had been a while since we had seen each other, and we did the shorthand catch-up that we all do. "It's very exciting!" she said. "Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre has just received a grant from the Dayton Hudson Foundation to hire its first administrator. It's only part-time. Do you know anyone?"

I started working with Zorongo on May 1.

Danny Buraczeski and Gary Peterson at Hennepin Center
1989 • Photo James Davies

Buraczeski decided during the Advancement planning to not renew his contract with Zenon after 1992. This was a legitimate outcome of everything we had tried to do, and our initial plans had extended only for three years. He stayed in Minnesota and went on to create much of his best work ever, expressed by a renewed Jazzdance company that filled its roster with graduates of the University of Minnesota's Dance Program. In 1999, the Star Tribune newspaper honored him as its Artist of the Year. He has served as professor of dance at Southern Methodist University since 2005. Davies and I saw him last when all of us were visiting Seattle in October 2011.

Linda Z. Andrews • Zenon Fall Opening
November 2011 • Photo Gary Peterson
Andrews opted to keep Zenon's school, company, and commissioning projects going. She continues to lead, teach, curate, and present additional generations of dancers and choreographers. As I noted in a review of a spring 2012 performance, "Over time, dancers and dance companies, like athletes and sports teams, experience seasons of triumph and loss. For one who discovered the idea of Zenon before its debut performances in 1983, the company has danced through periods difficult to watch. Not so in recent years." Andrews and I meet up every 14-18 months to dish the dirt and solve everyone else's problems.

Keith Thompson • 2012
Keith Thompson danced with the Trisha Brown Dance Company from 1992 to 2001 (in addition to Thompson, that company at one time included three other alums of Zenon and New Dance Ensemble). Since completing his MFA degree in dance at Bennington College, he has served as assistant professor at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, the arts conservatory of Rutgers University.

I have continued to have adventures in all directions on the time-space continuum, and placed the bulk of my records about Zenon at the University of Minnesota Libraries in 2004. I remind people to sign the mailing list. You never know where it will lead.

Only recently have I gained an appreciation of Zenon's value to those on the other end of the commissioning pipeline. Joanie Smith, artistic director of Shapiro and Smith Dance, lived and worked in New York during the 1980s before coming to work at the University of Minnesota in 1992. 

"This was a mecca throughout the 1980s and 90s," Smith said. "Zenon and New Dance Ensemble are the reason for the strong New York City/Minneapolis connection. All of us choreographers in New York were extremely jealous when we heard that someone had been commissioned by Zenon. Its 'cred' was good: there were good dancers, high production values, you were treated well, and your work was respected after you left. It was rare for that generation of choreographers to do work and get paid. One might start work on one's company in New York, take it to Minnesota to finish, and then bring it back. Zenon put Minneapolis totally on the map and made it the destination of choice."

Thirty years on, I still believe that my fellow citizens should make dance one of the regular electives of their core curriculum in life. They can do that this month by making a Zenon Dance Company performance their own personal destination of choice. Two programs over two weekends will present choreography by Mariusz Olszewski, Netta Yerushalmy, Luciana Achugar, Daniel Charon, Johannes Wieland, and Danny Buraczeski.
Zenon Dance Company • "Elegant Echoes" (2007)
Choreography Danny Buraczeski
Photo Timothy Boatman

Zenon Dance Company Dancers, 1985 – 1991:
Valerie Alpert; Linda Z. Andrews; Denise Armstead; Luc Bal; Blanka Brichta; Danny Buraczeski; Ann Chiodi; William Gordon; David Grey; Mark Haase; Mary Harding; Deirdre Howard; Les Johnson; Heidi Kalweit; Mark Kane; Kimo James Kimura; Kevin Kortan; Krista Langberg; Shawn McConneloug; Bruce McGill; Christine McGinnis; Wayne Roddy; Stephen Rueff; Christopher Ryan; Andre Shoals; Jane Shockley; Linda Stoen; Colleen Tague; Erin Thompson; Keith Thompson; Jonathan Urla; Gregory Waletski; Gregg White; Catherine Young.

Zenon Dance Company Choreographers, 1985 – 1991:
Diane Aldis; Danny Buraczeski; Donald Byrd; Madeline Dean; Mark Dendy; Laurie De Vito; Derek Dragotis; Anne Gunderson; Joel Hall; Larry Hayden; Bill T. Jones; Hannah Kahn; Marvette Knight; Alan Lindblad; Victoria Marks; Bebe Miller; Jennifer Sargent; Linda Shapiro; Lynn Simonson; Stephanie Skura; Wil Swanson; Doug Varone; Charlie Vernon; Randy Warshaw; Lewis Whitlock; Charles Wright; Dwight Yoakum; Keith Young.

Zenon Dance Company Board of Directors Members, 1985 – 1991:
Linda Z. Andrews; Mary J. Atmore; Wendy W. Barth; Claudia K. Brewington; Rodney A. Brown; Daniel J. Buraczeski; Jon G. Danskin; Donna R. Edelstein; E. John Evans; James W. Farmer; Ted A. Ferrara; Douglas L. Forsberg; Laura H. Gilbert; Beth L. Hennessy; Michael Hudson; Linda M. Hustad; Patricia Wakefield Kingston; Susan J. Ladwig; Donald C. Lane; Mark D. Lee; Trevor F. Lewis II; L. Kelley Lindquist; Rita A. McConnell Mattaini; David M. McQuoid; James A. Morlan; Diane Fridley Norman; Kate Orandi; Mary E. Pawlenty; Gary P. Peterson; Cindy A. Pickard; Lowell F. Pickett; Robert E. Rose; Monica J. Ryan; Barbara M. Schuler; Margaret Shulman; Amy Silvermann; George M. Stuart; Patricia A. Timpane.

Related Articles:
Gary Peterson • September 2012 • "Make dance a regular elective
of your core curriculum in life."