Dance review: Black Label Movement at Cowles Center

Choreographer Carl Flink’s “Whack-A-Mole” is a dystopian meditation on endless war and the slipperiness of insurgent forces – here today and gone tomorrow. The work, premiered by his troupe Black Label Movement Friday night at the Cowles Center, explores these concepts with an aggressive visceral intensity but sometimes its themes are so big that they get lost among the array of political, artistic and pop cultural references connected with them.

“Whack-A-Mole” is performed by a cast of 17 “movers” dressed in earth-toned costumes blending Iraq War desert camouflage and post-apocalyptic practicality. They dance angrily, passionately, desperately and even fearfully to Greg Brosofske’s raucous industrial score under a mesh canopy that defines the theatrical space as battleground, prison camp and communal gathering place. But there’s also a futuristic sense of totalitarian world order, one beholden to a serene leader (Emilie Plauché Flink) who may be spiritually benevolent or just dangerously manipulative.

Ironically, it’s this compelling convergence of ideas that weighs down the work. Flink is unflinching when showing the emotional and physical carnage of humanity’s desire for self-destruction but he’s telling two stories at once about who we are and where we’re going. It’s not that they can’t be told together it’s just that each deserves fuller treatment than Flink has given them here. Perhaps this is really an evening-length work in the making.

There’s a considerable artistic challenge in isolating the psyche of war and abusive power in just one work. Thoughts turn to examples like George Orwell’s “1984,” Kathryn Bigelow’s film “The Hurt Locker” and also “Political Mother,” Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter’s heavy-metal rumination on dictatorship (seen last fall in the Northrop Dance Series). Flink is savvy enough to cut a path amongst such omnipresent influences and here’s hoping he continues to explore “Whack-A-Mole” with all its potential. The high-octane acrobatic movement he summons up from the dancers is courageous and often thrilling to behold.

The program also includes Flink’s “Field Songs” (2009), a look at the shift from rural to urban society set to the witty music of The Jinnies (performed live). Danced with a mix of playful persuasion and subtle darkness by the cast, this work stands up as an elegy to an agrarian way of life that is slowly slipping away. Perhaps “Whack-A-Mole” is really its necessary sequel.