Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Running Elevated to Art at PS21

Ethan Law, Sabina Bočková,Viktor Černický, Dora Sulženko Hoštova. Photo: Steven Taylor

Running… For your life. On empty. Errands. Toward something. Away from your troubles. Out of time. On pure adrenaline. Out of energy. For office. On fumes. Down the clock.

But on a stage, on a 10-meter long treadmill, in addition to dancing, cycling, spinning a Cyr wheel, doing quotidian tasks, or reminiscing about your childhood? Yes, in Runners, by Cirk La Putyka from the Czech Republic, at PS 21’s intimate, open-air amphitheater in Chatham on July 22. The treadmill is similar to those instruments of torture that you find at any gym—it goes from slow to way-too-fast, but this one reverses too. (Do the ones in the gym? Hmm.) This one also serves as a metaphor for the passage of time, and with it, memory and identity. It’s also the source of hilarity, awe, and imparted terror regarding the six performers: Dora Sulženko HoštovaViktor Černický, Ethan Law, Sabina Bočková, Veronika Linhartová, and Jakub Rushka.

Veronika Linhartová and Jakub Ruschka, strolling minstrels. Photo: Steven Taylor

Four of them are dancers, and they are fascinating individuals about whom we learn biographical details through spoken anecdotes, many involving daredevil acts and the lure of speed. These periodic monologues, recited downstage at a mic, offer respites from the often breakneck action on the treadmill, angled diagonally on stage for most of the hour. Bočková tells of being unable to sit still, and as a child, eagerly plunging into a deep pool time after time. Černický recalls riding his bicycle at top speed down a mountain, and crash landing in a soft spot of grass. Law was tossed by a robotic arm high in the air before face planting on the hard floor and hence being immobilized for nine months. Hoštova reminisces about her mother's closet, performing an elegant dance over a rolling bed of what appeared to be gravel.

Simply the act of standing up without falling while the treadmill accelerates seems impossible. They usually stand sideways, as if surfing, but then add in dance moves, lunges, rolls, arabesques, and more. The mounts and dismounts are a whole separate art—sometimes, they simply roll off, but in one section, a crash mat catches them as they leap and spring high in the air. Černický places inflatable balls of different sizes on the treadmill, arranging them precisely so they spin on their own. Then he rides a bicycle on the treadmill, eventually going hands-free; this looks extremely perilous, even for a pro. Law, who resembles Bono, is a Cyr wheel expert, and after a routine performed on the stage floor, gets on the treadmill for a spin on the Cyr wheel and some flashy moves before setting the wheel spinning on its own. It sounds so simple, but one can only imagine the practice behind this act.

Dora Sulženko Hoštova and Viktor Černický race to the finale! Photo: Steven Taylor

The two musicians, Linhartová and Ruschka, provide the atmospheric and varied music and sound, comprising folk tunes, rhythmic interludes, and rock songs. For the final act, the performers pivot the treadmill perpendicular to us; the musicians leave their upstage box and stroll on it facing downstage while playing the violin and guitar and singing. The four dancers, now in running gear (Bočková wore just socks, no running shoes), form a pack and begin to race one another for both speed and duration. They shout out their speeds, reaching a 10 mph sprint, which seems insane, especially with spotlights in their eyes and an audience of hundreds watching. Ultimately, the long-legged Černický is the sole remaining runner; the lights dim but for rays emanating from behind him. I sat in awe of what the human body can do, and what the brain accepts as sane. Clearly, these performers have extreme capability in both arenas.

Runners is directed by Rostislav Novák, Vít Neznal; choreography by Dora Sulženko Hoštová; dramaturgy by Petr Erbes, Viktor Černický; set design by Pavla Kamanová; costumes by NoN Grata and Mikuláš Brukne; music by Jan Čtvrtník, Veronika Linhartová; lighting design by Jiří (Zewll) Maleňák; sound design by Jan Středa.

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