As a prelude to “Merge,” the new piece choreographed by Carl Flink and Marciano Silva dos Santos and performed by their respective companies, Black Label Movement (BLM) and Contempo Physical Dance, the two choreographers appeared themselves on stage as dancers.

Peeking out from the curtains on either side of the Cowles Center stage, they played cat and mouse before meeting at center stage, in a rendezvous that vacillated between animal confrontation and mischievous curiosity.

The duet was a treat that offered a glimpse of the process Flink and Silva dos Santos have embarked upon over the last six months, since they joined their companies and artistic visions together for a new premiere.

In his remarks to the audience on opening night, Flink said that when Cowles Executive Director Lynn A. Von Eschen first approached them, he had proposed a joint performance where each of the companies would show their own work in a shared evening. Instead, they decided to collaborate on a work, resulting in “Merge,” a spirited piece that shows off not only the two choreographers, but the talented dancers in both groups.

Above the dancers hung the drawings of Lara Hanson, a visual artist who attended many of the rehearsals while “Merge” was in process. Her extemporaneous abstractions capture the dance’s sense of motion and spontaneity, adding her own fluid touch. Beginning with just one drawing hanging above the dancers’ heads, then more drawings drop as the piece continues.

By the end, they are framed by Hanson’s playful documentation of their collaborative process. Her work punctuates the thrust of the piece itself, which celebrates the creative process and the vulnerable, sometimes dangerous proposition of working creatively as a group.

“Merge” and its prelude were presented in the second half of the program, while the first act was devoted to showing works from both BLM and Contempo’s repertoire. First up was Flink’s “Canary,” a darkly surrealistic piece with frilly yellow costumes that references coal mine workers as a metaphor for life’s precarious dangers.

Next was Silva dos Santos’ “SenZalma,” about the Atlantic slave trade, which was propelled by a chilling score by Divanir Antonio Gattamorta. Both works ruminate on some of the more base aspects of humanity, with uncertain chance for redemption.

It was a nice breather to end the evening with the uplifting hopefulness and creative possibility that “Merge” represents.

 

Sheila Regan is a Twin Cities dance writer and arts journalist.