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If you’re looking for a sightseeing platform, the pretty little community of Maddock, Ont., halfway between Toronto and Ottawa, is obviously the place to go. That’s where Zhenya Cernyakov, Mairead Filgate, and Brody Stevenson managed to get their hands on the very piece of stage machinery — physically and figuratively — central to their new work “Liminal.”
The slipperiness of perception and the passage of time are the subjects of three Dora Award-winning dance artists who collaborate as Toronto’s Throwdown Collective, which more than five years ago began a residency at the celebrated Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Beckett, Mass. The search started during
“With each project we try to build on what we’ve done before,” Filgate said. “We have taken recourse. We have summed up; inside and outside the house. Now we’re propelling ourselves in a different dramatic direction.
Usually in the theater the audience views the dance from a fixed point of view. The throwdown trio wanted to offer a constantly changing perspective with the deliberate goal of messing with the audience’s perception of what they were seeing.
“There’s room for ambiguity in the images we’re working on,” Stevenson said. “The audience can go, ‘Is that two people lovingly hugging or fighting each other?’ We want to keep it amorphous. Sometimes it’s one thing, sometimes it’s another.”
A revolving platform seemed an ideal way of achieving its objective; Ideally until they found out how much it costs to rent essentially a giant turntable from a commercial production company. Then, through word of mouth, they found Maddock, a retired theater technician who happened to build a revolving stage for a movie set in the 1990s.
Sernyakov said, “He held on to it thinking it might come in handy one day.” “We went to all these companies and they gave us quotes that we simply couldn’t afford. So we discussed it with them and they basically expanded it to 10 to 16 feet in diameter for us.
The twirl in Sorcha Gibson’s design is set within a square stage that will rest on the floor of the Theater Center’s Franco Boni stage. With the further aim of disrupting the traditional perspective, the stage is being rotated to present a “V” shape with one corner facing the audience, rather than aligning with the side walls of the space.
With atmospheric lighting by Arun Srinivasan and a mood-shifting score by Joshua Van Tassel that also calls to mind the rumble of the rotating electric motor, the makers of the work hope to transport viewers to a liminal place where time stands still. The pace slows down, everything is fleeting and nothing is what it first seems.
Some imagination of hugging someone, putting on and taking off, is quite normal in the short term, but it can be unsettling when it turns into something unexpected.
“The moment something seems obvious, we try to turn it around and move it somewhere else,” Serenkov said. “A tender loving hug becomes a suffocation over time, but it’s hard for the audience to know exactly when the transformation happened.”
The different speeds of rotation have a direct bearing on playing with the notions of time and motion. At the slowest speeds, the rotation is barely perceptible. Artists can do as much as they want. Turn the dial to a maximum of 15 revolutions per minute and that’s all they can do to keep from being thrown.
“To stay spatially in the same place from the viewer’s point of view, we have to keep moving,” Cernyakov explained. “But if you want to move forward, you have to stop. It turns the whole notion completely on its head.
Beginning in 2009, Throwdown Collective graced Toronto’s outdoor, summertime dusk dance audiences with a succession of three high-spirited, family-friendly and athletic acts. In 2017, DanceWorks brought the trio inside the house and showed them dancing the work of a commissioned choreographer from Montreal, Lena Cruz.
Now, following the inevitable pandemic-related postponement, DanceWorks is co-producing Throwdown in this new venture, which is the group’s first full-length production and which takes it into more contemplative territory than it has ever explored.
“This is the most daring and ambitious work we have ever done in every possible way, in scale, in complexity, in difficulty both as choreographers and performers,” Cernyakov said. “It’s been very exciting and we look forward to sharing it with viewers.”
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