News Column

8 questions with Carl Flink of Black Label Movement

July 10, 2014

By Chris Hewitt, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

July 10--Carl Flink talks about performances by his dance company, Black Label Movement, as if he almost hopes for mistakes.

"When we're doing our best work, an audience is going, 'Even though I know this is choreographed, I don't know what will happen next. Something could really go wrong here,' " says Flink, whose high-flying and athletic "Wreck" will be performed this weekend at the Guthrie Theater.

"I love the kind of on-the-edge physicality you see in sports. I always joke that the best place to find great dance photography is Monday mornings on the sports page after Sunday football games," says Flink, 47, an avid soccer player whose wife, Emilie Plauche Flink, is an artistic associate of BLM.

Flink describes dancing with BLM as "the ultimate trust exercise" because his dancers must leap into the air without fear, confident that the person who's been choreographed to catch them will be in the right spot to do so. But, if something is really going wrong, the dancers can shout the company's safe word ("Condor!"), which lets everyone know it's time to stop and figure things out.

The inspiration for "Wreck" was Flink trying to figure out some things about grief.

"The piece is a response to a period of 10 years in which 13 people in my life died," says Flink, who was born and raised in the Twin Cities, then went to New York to dance with Jose Limon Dance Company, then Stanford Law School, then a job advocating for farmers. "I woke up one morning and I thought, 'I don't know what I'm supposed to be learning from this.' And I thought, 'I need to figure it out because it's weighing me down.' "

"Wreck" features 13 dancers whose movement is meant to suggest people confined to the last air-tight space in a ship that has sunk.

"They know they're going to die, but they are choosing how to leave," Flink says. "The idea is: How can we have this harrowing event but find a constructive way to build from it? Do we choose to come together or do we retreat into our own little corners -- into, in some ways, despair?"

"Wreck" will establish the mood of the piece by making the Dowling Studio at the Guthrie a confined space, using video, Mary Ellen Childs' music and an in-the-round seat configuration to suggest to audiences that they are on the ship with the survivors.

Flink knows not everyone viewing "Wreck" will pick up on the ship narrative, and that's fine with him. In fact, the piece is designed to give audience members considerable freedom in interpretation and in what to look at.

"I'm one of those artists who is not uncomfortable telling you what inspired me, but my deal is that I like to do it after hearing your ideas about it first," Flink says. "If people have a completely different experience of the piece than me, I don't want to invalidate that and that's why we always like to have Q-and-A's after the shows: to learn. I'm not knocking applause -- I really appreciate it -- but you can't learn much from it."

Flink says he learned a lot from making "Wreck," which premiered at the Southern Theater in 2008 and has also appeared in Duluth.

"Not every mover (that's what he calls the dancers) gets to the end of the piece. We're not necessarily headed toward a joyous epiphany, but that's the healing impact of the life-and-death cycle we are in," says Flink, who got what he hoped to get from the work. "Now, I feel much less fearful."

Dance-o-phobes may find there's nothing to fear from Black Label Movement, which gets its name from the stark labels on generic foods in the 1970s.

"The idea is no-nonsense labeling," says Flink, a University of MInnesota dance professor who formed the company eight years ago. "There's a rawness to Black Label Movement. We're not apologizing for being athletic dance movement. I'm interested in the audience seeing that we work hard."

As his answers to our eight questions indicate, he's also interested in seeing his dancers' hard work pay off one day.

Q. What would you do if you had a million dollars?

A. I would get my company members into contracts so they could concentrate purely on being dancers. All of them have one or two or three jobs. I was able to focus on dance when I was in the Limon Dance Company and it was a transformative experience. I would also love to create a rehearsal space and school that prepares people for this type of movement.

Q. What's the best thing about your job?

A. All the facets of who I am come together. I get to explore athletic and artistic physicality with a group of people who are also engaged by the questions we are working on. And when I make a piece, it's also engaging my spirit and my soul.

Q. Who would play you in a movie?

A. Viggo Mortensen or Sean Bean. When I've seen their performances, I have never questioned the physicality of what they're doing. I don't get the sense that there's any artifice.

Q. When did you know you wanted to dance?

A. The moment I look back on was when my dad took me to see the musicals compilation film "That's Entertainment" and I saw Gene Kelly do "Singin' in the Rain." I went home -- I was 8 -- and I danced every day after that. The other moment is when I was a dancer here at the University of Minnesota and a woman named Susan McGuire had come here to see a Paul Taylor work. She took me to dinner and said, "I know you're not thinking of this for yourself but I think you should move to New York. You could have a career."

Q. What's the scariest thing you've ever done?

A. I stood up to Bill T. Jones one time on stage. I told him I was not willing to perform naked for him.

Q. Where is your favorite place to be?

A. Beautiful, natural settings: the Boundary Waters, Yellowstone. I like to be there with my kids and family.

Q. What was your first job?

A. Summer camp counselor, when I was in eighth grade. It was a day camp at a community center.

Q. What's your motto?

A. "Control the things you can control and always work hard." That's the only way I've ever seen anything change. I guess I would also say, "Consume your life as passionately as possible."

IF YOU GO

What: "Wreck"

When: Through July 20

Where: Guthrie Theater Dowling Studio, 818 S. Second St., Minneapolis

Tickets: $30-$22, 612-377-2224 or guthrietheater.org

Chris Hewitt can be reached at 651-228-5552. Follow him on twitter.com/ChrisHMovie.

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(c)2014 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

Visit the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.) at www.twincities.com

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Source: Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN)


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