THEATER REVIEW | Black Label Movement’s “Wreck” dances through disaster at the Guthrie Theater


A group of survivors in a sunken vessel at the bottom of the sea huddle in the only compartment left that has trapped air to breathe. How do they face their inevitable demise? How does each grapple with their emotions as a group and as individuals just wanting to survive?

Wreck, choreographed by Carl Flink and performed by his ensemble Black Label Movement, was presented at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio, with the opening on Friday, July 11th. The work included original music by Minnesota composer Mary Ellen Childs. As the title implies, Wreck took the violence, obsession and fear of a disaster and channeled it into the aesthetics of an intended theater-dance work.

The story told by the theater side of the ‘theater-dance’ equation could be realized in different scenarios from the Titanic to the Edmund Fitzgerald to the USS Thresher. With artistic insight, Flink universalized the ongoing narrative of marine disaster that is woven into our culture. The work was a meditation on random death and an interpretation of the angst, anger and depression of this worst-case situation.

The youthful ensemble performed elaborate kinetic tableaus and frenetic movement sequences charged with emotion, as they reflected the panic inherent in such a terrible incident on and under the water. With athletic leaps, ritualized movement and emotive ensemble sequences, you witnessed the deaths of individuals in the engine room and in the water, as well as the hysteria of survivors in a lifeboat not knowing what’s to become of themselves.

Flink’s cascade of raised-up arms, thrust-out torsos and splayed legs have a kinetic fireworks effect. Mary Ellen Childs’ music fed the foreboding of impending disaster that permeates the opening scenes. The score reinforced the tone of tragedy that built throughout the work.

The program outlined a series of scenes that made up a theater-dance piece with black-outs cueing each new scene. However, the work itself seemed quite non-linear in form that belies a sequential plot. Some choreographers of theatre-dance insert lines into their work to add clues and characterization that help present the unfolding story. With Wreck I never got the sense of a particular story being told or the development of specific characters. It presented only the idea of a ship disaster.

Black Label Movement, performed at the Dowling studio, appeared to be made up of dancers and non-dancers. The non-dancers were certainly adept at movement but as actors not dancers. Thus, the work had a communal feel, as the ensemble performed virtuoso duets as well as movement sequences derived from theatre games. All was within close quarters with the audience. Virtuosity does not become a barrier to empathy. In the end, this could have been you at the bottom of the sea.

The use of projections was ineffective. All movement came to a stop when the still image appeared. This did not integrate the visuals very well with the dance. A handful of individual slides were shown throughout the dance, most of a certain freighter, but not a vessel in distress or sinking.

Wreck gave the expectation that you would see a riveting story. But the work only gave the impression of a story. You saw scenes of beautifully interwoven movement, but it was quite distracting trying to piece together a storyline. Wreck was a very good modern dance work, but not an excellent theater-dance piece.

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