Many artists have taken up the challenge of portraying what it might be like to face death without any hope of reversing the outcome.
It’s a tough journey to take but Carl Flink, artistic director and choreographer for Black Label Movement, proves he and his dancers are up to the task in a polished revival of the elegiac “Wreck” (2008), now performing in the Dowling Studio at the Guthrie Theater.
“Wreck” depicts a harrowing scene inside the last airtight compartment of a sunken ore boat on the bottom of Lake Superior.
When the audience first enters the theater, the wall that separates the auditorium from the lobby has been raised. Daylight streams in and the space feels open.
But then the wall descends, sealing the dark in the theater, and there is an immediate sense of being shut in with the performers and their ordeal. Vintage films show intact ships traversing the great water.
The 13 dancers move anxiously but Flink’s perspective is broader than fear and hopelessness. They fight for survival, as remote as it seems. They struggle with one another, and themselves, as anyone would in such a dire situation.
Flink’s choreographic approach is rugged, athletic and gutsy but also beautiful and intimate as it depicts the final throes of lives cut short. Because the work is performed in the round, audience members see the movement from different angles.
Some of the dancers “die” mid-show. Ashley Akpaka’s body is tossed and held. She ends up undulating on the floor, her limbs spiraling around her, as if sucked into a whirlpool.
Margaret Johnson is a “selkie” (a folkloric creature who lives on sea and land) who alternately soothes and menaces Patrick Jeffrey. And in a section called “Widow’s Walk,” Alyssa Mann (dressed in a spectral white gown by Angie Vo) reckons with love and loss.
The score for “Wreck” was composed by Mary Ellen Childs and is performed live by the top-notch ensemble of Laura Harada, Michelle Kinney, Peter O’Gorman, Pat O’Keefe and Jacqueline Ultan.
Childs received a Sage Award for this project in 2008 and the music is central to the work’s success. Its texture inspires a rippling underwater mystery — the composition pounds and crashes like a storm or delicately echoes as if recorded in the depths.
Together Flink and Childs lead us through an emotionally harrowing but artistically rewarding experience.
Caroline Palmer writes about dance.