The ten short pieces for string quartet and rhythm loops written by John Adams in 1994 were presented as John's Book of Alleged Dances — "alleged" because, at the time of their premiere, that's exactly what they were. Since Adams didn't write the music with any particular company in mind, the idea that it might one day be used as the basis for movement was purely hypothetical.
Since then, a number of choreographers have taken Adams's dare and created dances to be performed with the music; most recently, Minneapolis choreographer Carl Flink has begun using the Alleged Dances as a score for new work by his company Black Label Movement. Yesterday, an audience at the MacPhail Center for Music was given a sneak peek at dances set to six of the ten pieces during a Bakken Trio concert. (The musicians performed all ten.)
Adams describes the tone of the Alleged Dances as "dry, droll, sardonic." They're also a lot of fun, thanks to Adams's signature stew of jazz, minimalism, avant-garde, and even folk influences. Flink was an apt choice for the commission: his intensely physical, highly precise style is a perfect match for Adams's brawny yet brainy strain of post-modernism.
Yesterday's program, named movement(s)uite for reasons involving autocorrect (so we were told), began with Haydn's String Quartet Op. 33 ("The Bird"), performed by Stephanie Arado (violin), Francesca Anderegg (violin), Pitnarry Shin (cello), and Korey Konkol (viola). The audience gasped at Arado's rousing take on Stravinsky's fast-paced Duo Concertante for Violin and Piano (with pianist Judy Lin), and politely welcomed Anderegg's performance of the Suite for Solo Violin by contemporary Venezuelan composer Paul Desenne. The concert's first half concluded with Shin's highly colored, almost Romantic performance of two movements from Bach's fourth cello suite.
When the quartet (same performers as in the Haydn) had taken their seats, headphones on to hear the recorded rhythm loops, the Black Label Movement dancers entered from the rear of Antonello Hall — first walking across the stage, then jogging, then outright running at full speed completely around the perimeter of the venue. The audience, startled by the in-your-face physicality, were completely absorbed as the music — and the dance — began.
My dad likes to point out that "You never see joggers smiling," and the same is also true of contemporary dancers: it's serious business, especially with such a score full of jagged rhythms like Adams's. The eight Black Label "Movers," though, gently smiled throughout most of the dances they performed — whether slyly paying tribute to the Cuban stylings of the Habanera or performing gravity-defying duets (a BLM trademark) to Alligator Escalator. At the conclusion, the dancers circled the venue again, concluding by collapsing to the stage in trembles as the lights went down.
Flink's complete Alleged Dances will be premiered on Feb. 13 at the College of St. Benedict, then presented at Minneapolis's Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts from Mar. 5-7. Flink's hope, he explained from the stage yesterday, is that the Bakken players will be elevated above the dancers on a raised platform that the performers can move beneath.
I'll look forward to seeing that, but the performance yesterday was a memorable experience in and of itself: an up-close encounter with new choreography by a local company that's well-established but continues to rise. There's music at nearly every dance performance — why shouldn't there be dance at nearly every music performance?