'The Nutcracker According to Mother Goose': A merry mashup for minors

JAY GABLER | Updated 12/9/2013

Zenon Dance Company's seasonal tradition is a holiday show appropriate for ages 3 to 7 (and also 73 to 97).

Photo by William Cameron, courtesy Zenon Dance Company

"Those are sheep? They look like they have cat ears!" When you're playing to an audience of preschoolers, you don't have to wait for the reviews to appear online—they just get shouted out.

Despite one kid's qualm about costuming, the reviews were mostly raves for a December 7 matinee performance of Zenon Dance Company's "The Nutcracker According to Mother Goose." Zenon's holiday show, a Twin Cities December tradition that played at the Cowles Center this weekend, sets dances by nursery-rhyme characters to Tchaikovsky's ubiquitous (and, fortunately, brilliant) music.

Among the seasonal offerings on local stages, it's refreshing to have a "Nutcracker" that thinks, so to speak, outside the shell: children probably shouldn't have to wait until they're grown to discover that there exist forms of dance other than ballet and twerking. Zenon's "Mother Goose" is a great choice for kids aged, say, three to seven—though the near-tween boy in Saturday's audience also seemed pretty into it, and one elderly gentleman down front was laughing his head off.

There's some inevitable awkwardness to adults playing children, but the Zenon troupe are so sincere and wide-eyed (especially Tamara Ober, who you knew would totally get into playing a flower) that the conceit works. Zenon director Linda Andrews is also good in the speaking role of Mother Goose, though her banter could use a little tightening up; maybe that could be Zenon's Christmas gift from Joseph Scrimshaw.

The dances are charming and engaging, as demonstrated by the largely rapt reception the show received from Saturday's dressed-for-downtown rugrats. There are nice touches of preschool-appropriate humor: Jack tiring of leaping over his candlestick, clever disguises invented by Tom the Piper's Son, sheep that refuse to be found.

I'm guessing the next time I'll see a deflowering scene involving an adult man in a pink bunny suit, it'll be in an adaptation of "A Christmas Story" at the Bryant-Lake Bowl. In the meantime, I was quite happy to get Goosed at the Cowles Center.