Black Label Movement (Dance Magazine 2013)

Read the full article in Dance Magazine, here.

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.

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.

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.

See more at: http://www.dancemagazine.com/reviews/July-2013/Black-Label-Movement

Dance, Science to Collide in ‘Bodystorming’ Performance

WOODS HOLE–Back by popular demand, “Bodystorming,” a high-energy dance performance/demonstration presented by Black Label Movement of Minneapolis and the MBL Physiology course, will be held Sunday, July 21, in the MBL Club, 100 Water Street.The informal event, which is free and open to the public, is part of the MBL’s 125th Anniversary celebration. There will be two showings: 4 PM and 5:30 PM.

“Bodystorming” is an exciting new movement technique invented collaboratively by dancers and biologists that inspires powerful, athletic dances as well as insight into cellular dynamics.

Over the past few years, Black Label Movement (BLM), directed by Carl Flink, has been collaborating with MBL Physiology course faculty member David Odde on “The Moving Cell Project.” By having the dancers physically represent cells and molecules, they are exploring the idea of “using dancers to literally embody our scientific hypotheses, in order to quickly convey them to other people,” says Odde, who is a biomedical engineer at University of Minnesota. “We call it bodystorming, which is like brainstorming ideas, but using actual bodies.”

Over the winter, the collaborators published an article, “Science + Dance = Bodystorming,” in Trends in Cell Biology. They also performed at a TED MED Conference. BLM is currently in residence in the MBL Physiology course, following up on a successful residency last summer.

“Bodystorming” is generously supported by the MBL Education Office, the MBL Associates, Larry Pratt and the Doherty Fund at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the University of Minnesota Institute for Advanced Study.

Read the full MBL Blog post, here.

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.

Black Label Movement: “Whack-A-Mole” premieres at Cowles

Black Label Movement returns to the Cowles Center this weekend for the premiere of “Whack-A-Mole,” Carl Flink’s new investigation of the military industrial complex, as well as a reprise of “Field Songs,” which debuted at the Southern Theater in 2009.

The title “Whack-A-Mole” comes from a military euphemism, coined by Senator McCain in 2006, describing how, in an insurgency, the military clears out one force only to have more return after U.S. troops leave. An article in the New York Times of that year stated that McCain used the term at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. He later explained on Meet the Press that he was making an analogy to the vintage arcade game, “where the head — you bang it down, and another head pops up someplace else.”

For Flink, the euphemism, which was used to justify putting additional troops in Iraq,  serves as a “particularly strong signal of our country’s state of endless war,” he says. At the same time, most Americans live in an environment where there are few reminders of the wars our country fights. “We walk down our streets, and we don’t feel at war,” he says.

The new work consists of 17 performers, a landscape of bodies that Flink says contains a certain mass and weight due to its large size. The ensemble is made up of a diverse group of dancers with a range of athleticism and training.

The work isn’t meant to be literal, but rather expressionistic. At times, the men and women are divided. Others, the group seem to be in a boot-camp circumstance, or they appear more as a large throng of humanity. Flink’s wife, Emilié Plauché Flink, acts as a kind of seraph, appearing angelic at first, perhaps invoking the sense that she’s a victim, but later she turns that victim status on its head.

Set designer Annie Katsura Rollins, who has collaborated with Black Label Movement in the past, has created a backdrop for the piece. Greg Brosofske, another frequent collaborator with the company, has created an original soundscape, making this the sixth collaboration he’s done with Flink. Sage and Ivey Award winner Marcus Dilliard designed the lights.

The second half of the evening sees the return of Flink’s 2009 work, “Field Songs,” performed on fresh sod that covers the stage, with live music by Minneapolis roots rockers the Jinnies. It’s a celebratory, energetic piece that will make you want to get up and dance.

BLM’s sixth season marks a new generation of movers, as several familiar faces have moved on, including Eddie Oroyan, who’s now performing with Wym Vandekaybus’s Ultima Vez in Belgium. The company now includes dancers from all over the country, as well as six University of Minnesota alumni, where Flink is the chair of the theater arts department, as well as three current U of M students.

Read the full article on City Pages, here

Spotlight: Black Label Movement

Friday-Sunday: The motto for Black Label Movement is “We Do Our Own Stunts” and it’s appropriate, since the troupe of fearless dancers tackles artistic director Carl Flink’s athletic choreography with an abundance of derring-do. This weekend Flink will premiere “Whack-A-Mole,” a commentary on the concept of “endless war” on the part of the United States against insurgent groups around the globe. The cycle of destruction and recovery is central to this politically charged work performed by a cast of 17 dancers. The evening also features a remount of Flink’s 2009 work “Field Songs,” a vibrant study of the urban/rural divide, set on a sod-covered stage with live musical accompaniment by local roots artists The Jinnies. (8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m. Sun., $22, the Cowles Center, 528 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-206-3600, www.thecowlescenter.org.) CAROLINE PALMER

Read the full spotlight article from the Star Tribue, here.

World Premiere of “Whack-A-Mole” at the Cowles Center

Black Label Movement to Present the World Premiere of Carl Flink’s Whack-A-Mole at Its 6th MinnesotaSeason at the Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts

June 28-30, 2013, the Minneapolis-St. Paul based professional dance theater Black Label Movement (BLM & www.blacklabelmovement.com) presents the world premiere of BLM Artistic Director Carl Flink’s Whack-A-Mole for its 6th Minnesota season at the Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts in downtown Minneapolis. BLM will also remount Flink’s critically acclaimed work Field Songs, performed on sod with live music by Twin Cities roots rockers The Jinnies. (https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/the-jinnies/id255601967). Flink was a 2012 McKnight Choreography Fellow and both the Twin Cities City Pages 2012 “Best Choreographer” and one of its 2012 Artists of the Year.

BLM’s world premiere “Whack- A-Mole examines the consequences of the ‘endless war’ our United States society has essentially been in since World War II,” Flink explained, “The U.S. military uses the term whack-a-mole to describe insurgency forces, like those encountered during the Iraq War, that it clears from an area only to find those forces have returned shortly after the U.S. troops leave the region. The work isn’t literal. It’s an expressionistic exploration of the cycle ofdestruction and recovery a struggling community experiences during times of never ending strife.”

Whack-A-Mole includes the largest cast (17 movers) BLM and Flink have worked with for a concert dance work. Whack-A-Mole soloist and BLM Artistic Associate Emilié Plauché Flink observed, “Having this mass of humanityon stage raises the stakes for this piece. Carl creates waves of motion and both large and intimate stage images that the work demands, infused with the naturalvirtuosity, daring physicality and intricate detailing that are his hallmarks.” The premiere includes an original soundscape by composer Greg Brosofske, adynamic, moving set and costumes by designer Annie Katsura Rollins and a fresh lighting design by Sage and Ivey Award winner Marcus Dilliard.

Completing the evening, BLM takes its audience to another locale with Flink’s 2009 work Field Songs, a world of fresh sod, soil and live music performed by Minneapolis rootsrockers The Jinnies. Field Songs is a meditation, celebration and rumination on the at times tectonic encounter between rural and urban landscapes. The St. PaulPioneer Press wrote about Field Songs, “Flink creates dances that honor the lives and values of ordinary working people. There is a cleanness and clarity about the way his company of fearless movers slice through space, as if they were clearing the air of arty pretension. Flink also is a sophisticated artist who layers movement and meaning with a sure hand. Like the poet Walt Whitman, he sings the body electric.” May 31, 2009.

Other items of interest related to this season: 1. the prestigious American Dance Festival recently announced that it is commissioning Flink for its 2014 Festival at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina; 2. BLM enters its sixth season with a new generation of dynamic BLM Movers, as a number of long-time company members have had life changes sending them in new and exciting directions, including BLM Artistic Associate Eddie Oroyan now performing with WymVandekaybus’s Ultima Vez in Belgium; and 3. BLM will be in residence with biomedical engineer David Odde in July 2013 at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA.

BLM is a professional movement theater company based in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN dedicated to exploring Carl Flink’s uniquely athletic andballistic approach to choreography and the pursuit of new applications of dance to the human experience.

Read the full article on Minneapolis.org, here.

Crashing Science Into Dance

Jessica Ehlert, feet blackened from the rehearsal floor, ran full-speed across the dance studio. She leapt, latching onto another dancer, who caught her and crashed into two others, knocking them around the rehearsal space like pool balls.

An unlikely partnership between a dancer and a scientist inspired the choreography. The dancers will perform a portion of it at the TEDMED talk in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night, as well as demonstrate the activity inside a cell through dance.

University of Minnesota biomedical engineering professor David Odde and Theatre, Arts and Dance Department Chair Carl Flink started collaborating four years ago after attending a workshop on finding chaos in different disciplines.

Odde said he saw Flink’s dancers perform, and the dance reminded him of what cells look like under a microscope.

It can take years of research to design mathematical models simulating the interior of a cell on computers, Odde said. But dancing the motions is much faster.

“We’re simply brainstorming competing ideas on how

the cell works,” he said, “except we’re using our bodies to manifest the ideas.”

During the TEDMED talk, the dancers move around the stage to demonstrate the scientific concepts Odde discusses. The movement is supposed to be as random as possible and often looks like there isn’t any order.

The dancers walk, run and jump around the stage, bumping into each other — much like the internal parts of a cell sometimes do — increasing the collisions as the “heat” increases in the presentation.

Dance senior Margaret Johnson said it takes some time for her mind to clear, achieving the randomness.

“There comes a point where you’re not really thinking about anything, and your body just makes decisions,” she said. “You’re just completely blank.”

This is the fourth TED talk that Flink’s Black Label Movement dance company has been involved in, but it’s the first to tell “its own story” instead of just complementing what the presenter is saying, he said.

Odde’s lab group has discovered new ways of modeling brain cancer cells through the partnership, and Flink has been inspired to choreograph new dances.

“HIT,” one of the pieces Black Label will perform at the TED talk, is very physical, with the dancers smacking into each other. The dancers said they love performing this new form because the physicality of it “feels good.”

They hit each other hard enough to hear the slap against their skin, but Flink said the moves are as safe as playing any physical sport.

Odde’s lab studies cell division, which has many applications in cancer research. His work specifically looks at how the cytoskeleton of a cell controls cell migration and division and how computer models predicting these events can lead to therapeutic cancer treatments.

Using dance to model these processes is easier to understand than using computers, Odde said, because “a computer won’t talk to you.”

He often goes back and forth between the studio and the lab when trying to understand what’s happening in the cells.

“You start to get a sense of why things are happening,” Odde said. “[We get] new insight that we might have gotten from the dance that we wouldn’t have gotten from the computer.”

Read the full article, here.

For Minneapolis performance group, dance and science collide

It doesn’t look like a typical dance rehearsal, with a handful of performers mindlessly wandering about a gym, randomly colliding into each other, sometimes with a shove thrown in, running at top speed one moment and then slowing to a walk in the next.

But that’s what it might look like if molecules could dance.

The performance is the product of an unusual collaboration between two professors at the University of Minnesota: David Odde, a biomedical engineer, and Carl Flink, chair of the U’s Theatre Arts & Dance Department and artistic director of a Twin Cities dance company called Black Label Movement.

The result — having dancers model their movements on the violent, chaotic life of molecules in living cells deep within
University of Minnesota biomedical engineer David Odde, center, along with Black Label Movement artistic director and U arts and dance chairman Carl Flink, right, form a “cell” with Black Label Movement dancers Tuesday, April 9, 2013, at the U. (Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)
their own bodies — has taken Flink and his dancers in a novel direction in creating art.

And by watching, directing and even joining in the dance, scientists such as Odde may have found a tool that will help them better understand the tiny, unseen world inside cells, maybe even leading to insights on new ways to treat cancer.

The two professors will get a chance to teach the idea when they and Black Label Movement dancers give a presentation at a TEDMED 2013 conference Wednesday, April 17, in Washington, D.C.

Flink and Odde call their collaboration the Moving Cell Project, and it started with a chance meeting resulting from a mutual interest in catastrophes.

Both Flink and Odde were working on projects with the U’s Institute for
Advanced Study. In Odde’s case, it was a research collaborative with his brother Thomas, a film scholar, that looked at catastrophes in engineering, film and biology.

And Flink was working on a dance with Black Label Movement called “Wreck,” which depicted the last moments of a dying ship on Lake Superior.

When Flink and Odde met in 2007, they wondered if dancers could portray the turbulent world of biological cells, specifically the behavior of a cell structure called microtubules, which can quickly switch from growth to falling apart in a process labeled “catastrophe.”

Microtubules are important for the biologists because they play an essential role in cell division. Drugs targeting the mechanics of microtubules are used to treat cancer.

But portraying the molecules in a microtubule is a challenge for the dancer because those little bits of material live in an “extreme collisional environment,” where molecules ricochet around, smashing into each other at speeds of more than 1,400 miles per hour.

“It’s an extremely violent space,” Flink said. “We had to learn to run into each other.”

Flink and his dancers at first tried wearing oversized, padded sumo-wrestler costumes to prevent injuries. But the outfits proved too ungainly. They considered wearing military-grade body armor, but that was too expensive.

The dancers ended up using martial-arts techniques to hit without hurting.

They also used some unusual props to help act out the molecular world.

They increased the chaos and broke molecular bonds by hitting each other with big gym balls. They used coin flips to randomize their movements. They bounced off the sides of a big chain-link cage, representing the walls of a cell, which they assembled in a former torpedo factory in Northeast Minneapolis.

They tried to shut off their minds to be more molecular. But they discovered some artistic possibilities in the kinetic collisions of cell molecules.

“As sports show, the impact between two bodies is a very dramatic event,” Flink said.

Using the physical techniques developed in the Moving Cell Project, Flink developed a 19-minute dance piece called “HIT.”

Premiering in 2011, “HIT” violated expectations of dance as embodying beauty, grace and gentleness. Instead, here was a dance “in which the prohibition against violent physicality is removed,” and the performers were ramming, grabbing, kicking and jumping on each other. . .

Read the full article, here.