Black Label Movement’s latest performance at the Ritz showed just how crucial music is to dance.
A year ago, the company performed its signature piece, “This Bleeding Heart,” as part of Arena Dances’ Candy Box Dance Festival at the Southern Theater. The dance was accompanied by a score used when choreographer Carl Flink first created the piece as part of a residency at Stanford University in 2006, featuring music by XTC, John Tavener and Tori Amos.
Performing the piece in 2018, the music — particularly the Tori Amos song, dated the piece.
For the work’s 20th anniversary at the Ritz this past weekend, BLM commissioned vocalist and sound artist Queen Drea to create an all-new score for the piece. The infusion of Drea’s looping vocals and electronic beats added a fresh resonance.
Flink’s athletic aesthetic was at play. Dancers sprinted, somersaulted and made daring leaps that transformed into architectural lifts. They created percussive sounds with their bodies as they slapped the floor and contributed to the score themselves with the sound of their panting breath. It could be stressful to watch them work so hard. The payoff came at the rare softer moments, when the dancers connected with one another emotionally, offering weight and presence to which Drea’s score contributed.
Drea also performed sound interludes before the show, at intermission and between each dance, beginning with Flink’s 2012 “Canary.”
Wearing frilly yellow prom attire, “Canary” evoked the awkwardness and hormonal tension of a high school dance as the dancers reached out to embrace each other without touching. Flink set this relatable ritual of angsty adolescence inside of a coal mine, complete with a coal mining song sung by performers.
The evening concluded with the premiere of Flink’s new work, “Morituri te Salutant.” This piece included an original score by Greg Brosofske as well as live animation created by Paul Herwig.
The piece began with the frightening sight of all nine company dancers wearing dog masks (complete with tongues sticking out) and rumpled suits. Above them on a screen, Herwig’s illustrated dogs floated and eventually blurred into one another. As the dance grew more antagonistic, Herwig’s illustrations became violent, at one point showing knives and weapons flying through the air.
The aggressive choreography, music and projections effectively signaled what it often feels like in our world today as we’re surrounded by violence, school shootings and hateful rhetoric all around us. The piece was inconclusive about whether a better world is possible. The evil, it seemed to say, still lingers.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis critic and arts journalist.