When Mathew Janczewski brings his "Erased Steps" to St. Paul's Union Depot, he will showcase the intimate side of the historic train station with vaulted ceilings and Tennessee pink marble floors.
That's because the choreographer, who is the founder and artistic director of Arena Dances, is putting the audience members in the center of the transit hub's cavernous waiting area, with the show taking place around them for the site-specific performance.
"It's such a beautiful space," said the 53-year-old Janczewski. "But it's also choreographically super challenging because it is such a big space."
He works with 15 dancers, whose relationships become clear throughout the course of the abstract piece that will be performed to an original score by Minneapolis-based percussionist and composer Zack Baltich.
Baltich, too, has done quite a bit of site-specific work himself. In 2017, he recorded sounds from caves, in empty grain silos and abandoned train tunnels for a project called "Cavernous." Three years later, he spent five weeks in a 400,000-square-foot paper mill, creating a piece for solo percussion and electronics called "Afraid of the Dark Now."
He said the Union Depot is in line with what he thinks about performance spaces. "I play mostly percussion instruments, which lend themselves really well to big, spacious, echoey spaces," he said.
To create the score, Baltich, 31, drew inspiration from Janczewski's imagery and choreographed videos in combination with the sonic qualities of the space itself. Baltich conducted some reverb tests at the train station to check if the sound will translate for percussion instruments like a marimba mixed in with synthesizer.
"It's kind of a juggle between what will work well in the space sonically and what will help lift up Mathew's choreography," he noted.
Baltich also had to think about how to navigate Union Depot's space, which has a significant echo. At times he employs droning sounds that reverberate widely, and at others, he lets silence fill the space in a different way, filling the room with an absence of sound.
For Janczewski, an early inspiration for "Erased Steps" came in 2013 when he saw Eve Sussman's "The Rape of the Sabine Women." The movie has a scene shot in Berlin's Tempelhof airport where men in early 1960s suits move through the terminal, their shoes clicking and echoing as they walk.
Janczewski was struck by the way the filmmaker incorporated the sound of the footsteps as a key component in the scene. He filed away the memory in his head. When he stopped by Union Depot, it all came back to him.