Throwing down is urban dance speak for a provocation, in the spirit of a battle or a party, depending on what kind of mood you’re in. Toronto’s Throwdown Collective, Zhenya Cerneacov, Mairéad Filgate and Brodie Stevenson, are contemporary dancers but capable of throwing down all kinds of things, as amply demonstrated in their recent DanceWorks double bill.
The program opened with Various Concert, created collectively by the performers to a soaring and detailed score by Toronto composer Joshua Van Tassel. The piece got its first outing two summers ago at the dance: made in Canada festival and doesn’t seem to have changed much since then. Under a hot white spotlight, the performers freeze-frame poses, mostly leaning into each other in a ragged circle. They touch each other, and then retract that touch carefully, without affect. As the music starts to throb, the trio spins out and regroups on the fly, catching each other and releasing — these diagonal crossings of the stage have the organic feeling of a growing breath or a quickening pulse. Could it be improvised? Maybe and probably, in parts, but there is also something more courtly and constructed at work here. The shapes bring to mind classical sculptures; the movement feels measured.
When the three really start to swirl out, swapping and swinging each other, it resembles an ethereal do-si-do. The movement is buoyed by connection but danced under a cloud of mild to middling menace, the solemnity of which is supported by the bass notes of the score.
The inevitable arrest of this continuous flow of shape and pose comes when Cerneacov and Stevenson collapse to the floor. Filgate eventually joins them; then they rise to take turns dragging each other’s dead weight across the stage and off to the wings. While there is further resolution and some calm dancing left to offer, the furious pace has ended. They finish as they started, posing, under that hot white light.
The second half of the evening was very different in tone although executed in a similarly detailed and connected way. For the creation of Ylem (3 Eggs Ago), the collective invited Montréal artist Lina Cruz into their charmed circle to play as choreographer. In addition to dance, Cruz and her company, Fila 13, often collaborate on opera and theatre projects — she is known for bringing an absurd yet politically pointed sense of humour to her work.
The seriousness of Various Concert is dispelled almost immediately as Cerneacov, Filgate and Stevenson take the stage in glossy black satin pants (Filgate in a bustier) and stare down the audience. Three small egg-like objects, spotlit, are lined up near the front of the stage. It just feels like things are going to get silly.
Movement that begins with exaggerated peeking between forearms held up to shield the face becomes increasingly antic, involving the full body and, interestingly, the lips and jaw. Several times during the show, Filgate puts up her dukes to duck and weave at the house. The action begins to elicit guffaws and giggles from the audience, especially when the vocalizing of descriptive words starts — “brrrr, plop, craaaack.”
As the performers mince/run in tiny little steps across the stage, the egg-play (somewhat predictably, but we’re hoping for it and it’s okay) commences. They roll the ovoid objects along each other’s limbs, pocket them or pull them from folds in their clothing, pop them in and out of their mouths. Later, they spin and throw the eggs into the air, balance them in their ears, heads tilted and muttering nonsense words in a bizarrely comic three-way conversation. There is also non-egg athleticism. After an extended bit in which Stevenson and Filgate lay Cerneacov out (okay, with eggs on his eyelids), shushing and calming him as if he’s a toddler down for a nap, Cerneacov does a headstand, and the other two pick him up by his legs and swing him like a pendulum.
The three become more synchronized to each other as the music swells — at one point, backs to the audience, all of them sustain full body shakes.
Throughout, the work’s soundscape (by Montréal-based composer/performer and frequent Fila 13 collaborator Philippe Noireaut) is a pronounced presence, utilizing both recorded and live sound — sudden intakes of breath, the plink of dripping water and, later, bizarre trills that remind me of opera singers warming up before a show. But, for all the weirdness of what they are doing, the performers never truly let rip, retaining a poise that comes from being well-prepared, but that also feels a bit demure.
Throwdown have been quietly working away together, in one form or another, for a decade. Separately, Filgate, Stevenson and Cerneacov are respected performers who have built dissimilar bodies of work. Together, they are making a really interesting contribution to the Toronto cultural scene, subtly working the line between flow and construction while remaining balanced on the very razor’s edge of humour and gravity.