My Gay Toronto - 416 Scene

Jacob Niedzwiecki dances with danger


"If comedy is tragedy plus time," says choreographer Jacob Niedzwiecki of his new work Unfavourable Geometry premiering at the dance: made in canada festival, "Then this is a very dark comedy. It is funny and has the highest body count of any piece in the festival. Ever.'

Niedzwiecki left the security of the National Ballet to experiment with technology and site-specific dance pieces. "I'm on a quest of being open to how technology can empower a dancer. Even give them superpowers," he says, "Enhance their power to communicate." Hence his enthusiasm for the cutting edge dance: made in canada festival. "You can see what is happening in the world of dance without leaving the Village. See what people are up to in full-fledged theatrical productions. It's run by an amazing artistic and technical team. I told them I'd like to simulate a huge nuclear explosion on stage and, instead of side-eye, they asked, 'How can we help?'"

Unfavourable Geometry was inspired by "a 200 page technical report I found online. It's a review of 50 years of nuclear accidents in Russia. I looked up three or four hours later, an experience I've never had with a technical report written by scientists. It's like a horror movie where you yell at the characters, 'Don't go in there!' Most of the workplace accidents have mundane causes - a hangover, rushing for a date - we've all had those days, but in this case it leads to death."

When Niedzwiecki realized that the potential for death was a spatial relationship, "The closer you are to the radioactive material, the more dangerous," the material began to translate to dance. He mixed in memories of the warning PSAs about workplace accidents where "very bad things happen. Everyone has had an ignorant supervisor but most get to go home and complain to their boyfriend, not die of radiation poisoning."

The challenge was "story telling with movement using dry, deadpan and horrific source material. Comedy out of tragedy. My goal is always to entertain. It came down to assembling the best cast I could find. Linnea Swan the KM Hunter award winner, James Leja who's been with the National Ballet for a decade and this is his first independent dance piece, and Luke Garwood who is the busiest contemporary dancer in the city. And he's also screamingly funny."

Unfavourable Geometry makes use of "videogames, movies, dance, readings - the video mockumentary approach gives me access to a wider use of storytelling tools. It's a challenging tale to tell so I'm using every trick in the book. A friend who is a television writer saw a rehearsal and said it has the structure of a 22 minute sitcom. That's a structure that is in our bones, a familiar structure." A familiar structure with an explosive climax.

"I've always had a fascination with bringing an audience into secret places and locations, and this material was only declassified in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union." Niedzwiecki's non-dance pursuits may be less secretive but they are just as dangerous: he is part of a gay dodgeball league. "When I left the National Ballet I realized I'd spent most of my life to then sweating in a room with other people. I found a gay ball society on Facebook so that's how I blow off steam: running around playing sports with other homos."

Unfavourable Geometry is part of the dance: made in canada festival running Thurs, Aug 13 to Sun, Aug 16 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis St.