Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Setting the stage for art in the Exchange

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With its aluminum chain-mail curtains and deconstructed-cube design, the new stage in Old Market Square looks like it was custom built for the likes of tech house or electro.

But the first music to emanate from the $1.2-million structure when it opens will be decidedly more organic, as Winnipeg salsa ensemble Papa Mambo has been tapped to perform at the official unveiling of the venue formally known as The Cube.

The two-level aluminum-and-concrete stage, which replaces a platform demolished over the winter, will open Thursday with a free concert at noon and a light show after dark.

Exchange District firm 5468796 Architects designed the stage to have a presence even when no concerts are taking place. The venue's partly retractable "skin" -- 20,000 pieces of polished aluminum threaded together with cables -- can be illuminated from within using nine ceiling lights, 14 floor lights and an LCD projector that can display images by treating each piece of chain mail as a programmable pixel.

The pieces of aluminum in the chain mail are fused at angles that allow the curtain deflect the internal light, said Sasa Radulovic, one of the designing architects. "It stops light pollution. It does what we want it to do -- only the skin gets illuminated," he said.

Unlike the previous stage, the new venue has a sound system that will allow singer-songwriters or duos to plug in and play without having to rent external public-address systems. The lower overhead should make it possible to hold more performances at Old Market Square, said Brian Timmerman, executive director of the Exchange District BIZ, which is responsible for booking and renting out the stage.

But larger concerts, such as performances during the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival, will require external PA systems.

The venue also has a north-facing second tier where bleachers will be installed. This level can serve as a separate open-air venue for music or theatrical performances, Timmerman said.

The chain-mail curtains may also be used as a canvas for visual-art installations, Radulovic said. The north- and west-facing curtains are fixed, while the south curtain can be retracted to reveal the performance area. The east curtain can also be retracted, or be pulled out like an orange peel.

Beginning this weekend, the curtains will be illuminated at night, with a different colour theme and pattern planned for each night of the week, Timmerman said.

An upgrade planned for July will allow The Cube to react to passersby and serve as interactive public art. The structure will be hard to miss, but its designers believe it will not overwhelm its turn-of-the-20th-century Exchange District environment.

"The architecture in the Exchange was state of the art when it was built," said architect Johanna Hurme. "We're honouring that spirit."

The stage was funded by the Winnipeg Foundation, the City of Winnipeg, CentreVenture and a federal arts-infrastucture grant.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2010 D1

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