A terrifying project - Chornobyl

When performing artist Billy Marchenski toured Poland with a dance troupe he didn't dream it would be the start of an emotional experience that would later find its way into a creative media and movement project.

Marchenski had vacation time after the dance performances, and because his family hailed from nearby Ukraine, he travelled to Kiev, the country's capital city, where he came across the Chornobyl Museum, a collection relating to the nuclear explosion that took place north of Kiev in 1986.

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A man who had once been employed at the nuclear reactor was giving tourists a history of the disaster, including a description of the post-explosion cover-up in which authorities did not warn people on the streets about the cloud of radiation coming their way. The man, one of the last employees alive, also described the efforts of those who worked to clean up the radioactive mess.

Marchenski shook the man's hand and wept a bit.

"They went in and sacrificed their bodies to contain this crisis," Marchenski said.

Although he left the Ukraine shortly after and returned to his home in Vancouver, Marchenski couldn't stop thinking about it. He and his partner, Alison Denham, a professional dancer from the Sunshine Coast, decided last fall to visit the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone, the 30 km zone around the area, on a guided tour.

Twenty-six years later the derelict buildings and homes that were hastily evacuated are still standing, and vegetation and wildlife, including wild horses, have returned to the surrounding forest, now designated a park. Is this a positive sign that nature is healing the area? Or does the flora and fauna harbour a genetic mutation time bomb? The jury is not in yet.

Marchenski and Denham were shown videos of what to expect, and they hired a guide to show them the radioactive danger spots.

"It was the most terrifying thing I've ever done," Marchenski said.

Denham agrees.

"I've never been so nervous for one complete day like that in my life," she added. "We went into rooms, a library, where books were left open from the day of the disaster. The sense of abandonment of space was very sad."

Because Denham and Marchenski are creative performers, the emotional impact of this visit emerged later in an original art piece. Using Marchenski's background as an actor and Denham's dance and choreography abilities, they wrapped up the show in a mixed media, movement and slide show. With grant funding from the BC Arts Council they were able to turn it into a bigger dance project. Radix Theatre's artistic director Andrew Laurenson is producing the show and has sculpted the vision of the piece.

Denham and Marchenski will perform one segment of the show on Saturday, May 26, at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt (Trail and Medusa streets). Xenon 135, a slide show, is preparation for the bigger project, a July workshop with six dancers and actors. After the performance the couple will be on hand to answer questions and discuss their experience.

Doors open at 7 and show is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and a bar service will be available. See more about the project at www.radixtheatre.org.

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