Carl Flink brought a repertory program to the Cowles Center on Thursday night. His Black Label Movement, a Twin Cities-based dance theater company since 2005, is known for building big, bold, physical dance theater.
They like risk and that affinity is all over the program, their promotional materials, even the curtain that greets the audience preshow.
But what was really risky about Thursday’s program was repertory, a dying focus in our increasingly pop-up/project-oriented world. Repertory means these dance works were made strong enough to be held onto and revisited. And there were two of these rock-solid, re-created pieces on Thursday’s program.
“Duet for Wreck,” first seen in 2006, used a classic soundscape by Philip Glass and a spare pair of museum-style benches. The curtain rose on a couple — Natalie Carr and Patrick Jeffrey, both extremely strong performers — holding an inverted plank position on their respective perches.
They slid and crawled and cartwheeled, finally ending up together in a movement love story that was as touching in its rough, risky partnering as it was in the stuttering handhold at its end.
“An Unkindess of Ravens,” a 2014 commission from the esteemed American Dance Festival, closed the program. The scene opened in a haze, a sort of street dance on the bad side of town. Handstands, hip rolls and various groupings of the 11-dancer ensemble built an escalating sense of tension.
Especially impressive throughout was guest artist Cheng Xiong, a hip-hop dance instructor and member of the upstart New Company. His smooth manipulations of time and space were used to create disruption on the stage: choices were made, sides were chosen. The “ravens” referenced in the title protected their own and picked at predators who upset the group vibe.
“Ravens” was highly physical, full of catch-your-breath leaps and lifts. The sober ending, under a sculptural chain grid, was powerful.
The program opened with the premiere of Flink’s “Alleged Dances,” commissioned by and performed with Minneapolis’ Bakken Trio consortium. The musicians were elevated on a platform mid-stage, over the dancers. Here they explore “John’s Book of Alleged Dances,” a string of 10 songs composer John Adams created in 1994. The well-rehearsed cast of confident movers ran through their paces below, building the first performances of a work that will no doubt be revisited for years to come.
Amy Lamphere is a Minneapolis writer.