Touch in a Pandemic: Gustavus Alum Performs in TEDxMinneapolis

Posted on October 19th, 2020 by

Patrick Jeffrey '10 is performing in the Black Label Movement's piece "How Do We Touch, When Touch is Gone?"

Gustavus Dance Alumnus Patrick Jeffrey ’10 is part of the company of dancers from the Black Label Movement performing in the virtual TEDxMinneapolis event “Adaptation” on October 23. The piece, How Do We Touch, When Touch is Gone, was filmed in late September under strict COVID safety guidelines that allowed dancers to be in contact with one another.

Telling a story through dance and movement during a pandemic is not an easy task. This virtual dance film, taking the place of a traditional “TED talk,” won’t include words. “This is unlike what you would normally expect with TED,” says Carl Flink, artistic director of the Black Label Movement. “We’re letting bodies and imagery give the sense of the concept we’re trying to deliver, which is the impact of COVID on our lives, the way it’s kind of caused us to isolate, and then that idea of emerging from that place to fall into touch.”

In order to film this piece, the Black Label Movement created a COVID “bubble.” The bubble started 17 days before the filming, following a month and a half of conversations and planning. In July, Flink contacted Dr. Jon Hallberg, a medical professor at the University of Minnesota, to ask if there was a way for a dance company to perform and come into physical contact with each other responsibly. Hallberg then helped Flink and the Black Label Movement company to craft a plan. “None of this was ever done frivolously,” Flink says.

Eight days before their first COVID-19 test, company members were asked to be hypervigilant about following recommended practices and to isolate as much as possible. After all of the first tests came back negative, the company began rehearsing, but still stayed physically distant and wore masks. After the first two days of rehearsals, a second test was administered. Midway through the fourth day of rehearsal, Flink received word that all tests were again negative, at which point they began physical contact and partnering. Masks remained on throughout the process until the final shoot. Two days before the shoot, the company all had a third and final test, all of which were negative.

The ability to be in physical contact responsibly played into the theme of the film, and was meaningful for the performers. “Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, we were allowed to hug, and I don’t think I took advantage of that nearly enough,” Jeffrey says.

Jeffrey auditioned for the Black Label Movement during January of his senior year. He spent seven years with the company, before leaving in 2017, and returning in 2019. He’s performed professionally with other organizations in the Twin Cities, including Collide Theatrical and the Ordway. 

Flink says watching the development of Jeffrey as an artist and performer has been rewarding. “He came in as this incredibly raw athlete with a no-fear mindset and a willingness to learn, and has grown to be one of our emotional leaders in this company,” he says.

The Black Label Movement’s portion of the TEDxMinneapolis event starts at 7 p.m. on Friday, October 23. It will include the film, along with a short “making of” film, followed by a live Q and A with Flink and Hallberg. Tickets are required and start at $25. For more information about the virtual event “Adaptation,” visit the TedxMinneapolis website.


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