Black Label Movement

Cowles Center for the Performing Arts
Minneapolis, Minnesota
June 28, 2013

Patrick Jeffrey (foreground left), Zack Teska (foreground right), Elly Hollenhorst (background most left) and Cheng Xiong (background center). Photo: Bill Cameron, Courtesy BLM


Carl Flink’s dances often manifest a Brutalist architecture—rugged and direct with blunt physicality and provocative themes complexly layered. His Whack-A-Mole, a new large-scale work for 17 dancers (or “movers” as Flink calls them) to an original soundscape by Greg Brosofske, references the military term for clearing an area of insurgency forces. Flink expands its meaning to explore the cycle of destruction and recovery a community experiences over long periods of endemic strife.

The work’s stark expressionism brings to mind a sort of guerilla version of the classic depiction of war in Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table. Flink’s ability to handle group dynamics clicks in immediately. The Black Label dancers (almost all of them the youthful age of our combat troops) sit on rows of boxes executing a litany of gestures that meshes army signals, skewered salutes, Catholic crossing motions, fingers thrust under chins as if firing a gun. They constantly change positions, scuttling on all fours between boxes or migrating downstage to execute boot camp calisthenics. Brosofske’s grinding industrial and explosive sounds enhance the sense of bottled-up tensions. Throughout the piece there are allusions to PTSD, torture, suicide.


Patrick Jeffrey and Lauren Baker. Photo: Bill Cameron, Courtesy BLM


Successive scenes wring variations on a vocabulary that merges risky gymnastic moves with the fluid lyricism of Humphrey/Limón. Dancers catapult through space, crash, roll, hoist one another in constantly shifting groupings that overlap like moiré patterns. A gentler Emilie Plauché Flink represents an ambiguous figure that is part consoling spirit, part angel of death. The ongoing reconfiguration of boxes—propelled across the stage like convoys or arranged into formations—render the stage space elastic. A large wire mesh fabric reminiscent of a military net hangs center stage, reflecting light and holding projections.


Jose Victor Bueno (left), Lauren Baker (center), and Zack Teska (right). Photo: Bill Cameron, Courtesy BLM


Most successfully, Flink evokes the unsettling and ambiguous nature of war by intermixing battle maneuvers with motifs of mourning, succor, even celebration. In one section, the group breaks into a shimmying Middle Eastern style dance that becomes a wild free for all—a bunch of kids relieving tension, letting go. To altered vocal samplings of Balkan and Swahili folk songs, this community rocks on, even as corpses fall out and hit the dust and two men toss a woman between them in what could be either playful camaraderie or violent assault. It’s the rigor of Flink’s inspired formalism and the commitment of his dancers that keeps this world from blowing apart. They deserve medals for outstanding service, every one of them.

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Black Label Movement

Black Label Movement's Wreck
Southern Theater, Minneapolis, MN
January 13–20, 2008
Reviewed by Linda Shapiro

Carl Flink’s Wreck casts 13 dancers as crew members trapped in a watertight compartment of a sunken boat, struggling for survival as the oxygen runs out. But what sounds like a plot for a TV reality show becomes an epic ordeal of people going head-to-head with nature, mortality, and one another. For 80 charged minutes, Flink melds classic modern dance and rough-and-tumble maneuvers with elemental emotions. Everybody’s going to die, and everybody knows it. He contrasts choral movement where the group becomes a single pulsating organism with solos and duets that reflect more personal turmoil.
    Flink danced with the Limón Dance Company and apprenticed with Paul Taylor, so it’s no surprise that his movement recalls Limón’s heroic archetypes, Doris Humprey’s communal dynamics, and Taylor’s muscular exuberance. The powerful dancers, risk-takers all, deliver the combination of buoyant athleticism and feral intensity that is a hallmark of Flink’s style. They often move in tight formation—either within shifting groupings of wooden benches that define the compartment in which they are trapped, or careening through space, colliding and rebounding off of one another. Sometimes it’s like watching a display of cascading fireworks: carefully sculpted forms filled with volatile explosions of light.
    Flink often confines dancers to a small area defined by the benches, compressing them like heroic working-class figures in a Diego Rivera mural. The benches become part of a fluid architecture where dancers grapple in stylized gestures of mutual support and desperate aggression. They summon up images of deck hands at work, storms at sea, a community in chaos—sometimes simultaneously.
    The choreography can assume the homogenized look of a movement vocabulary derived from many sources. And as in many operas, the death throes go on far too long. But the combination of juicy athleticism and eerie theatricality works. Jeff Bartlett’s starkly expressionistic lighting and the propulsive music of Mary Ellen Childs played live by onstage musicians considerably ups the ante. Childs’ score, which sounds like a soundtrack for some noir thriller infected by the driving ostinato of Steve Reich, carves out a menacing soundscape that drives Wreck to its very last gasp.

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