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Peggy Baker Dance Projects

April 12, 2013

Piano / Quartet

Reviewed April 11, 2013

NAC Studio, Ottawa

(Repeat performances through to April 13, 8 p.m.)

Piano / Quartet, Photograph by John Lauener

Piano / Quartet, Photograph by John Lauener

Watch Peggy Baker perform and you know she moves through the world in a dance haze or, perhaps more rightly for Baker, a dance clarity. Her latest show, which includes a quartet of works all choreographed by Baker (three of them solos), reflects how Baker sees and uses language, media, words, poetry and the unique music of early 20th-century composer John Cage, which accompanies two of the works.

Baker has been dancing since the mid-1970s and, undoubtedly, her work is oh-so-20th-century. It’s also apparent that she’s not willing to give up what has been her life. An icon of contemporary dance, Baker started dancing with Dancemakers, and went on to collaborate with such notables as James Kudelka, Mark Morris and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Since 1990, she has been creating dances through her own company and working in tandem with favourite creators of one sort or another.

Dancers generally have short-lived stage careers. But, at 60, Baker shows no lack of flexibility or stamina. In her words, “I believe in time it will become ordinary for dancers to dance into their 60s.”

Her own solo in this show, Portal, is danced in complete silence. She plays with spots of light, moving into and out of them, sometimes fully lit, sometimes in the shadow. Her ease of movement is on display and is, indeed, impressive. The lighting, designed by her long-time collaborator Marc Parent, plays with Baker in glimpses. It’s a signature of Baker’s: the collaboration between one artist and another.

Similarly, the opening piece, Encoded Revision, works only because the phenomenal pianist, John Kameel Farah, who plays a grand piano mid-stage, is as much a part of the work as solo dancer Benjamin Kamino. The two literally play off each other, Kamino leaping madly into the words of a disjointed account of a train accident on the Canadian prairies in 1898, Farah engaging in a discourse with Kamino and flippantly tossing sheets of music, which flutter about the floor and become props in the dance.

A gem in the program is In A Landscape, a work originally performed by Baker in 1995, but now handed over to younger performer Andrea Nann, who is a stunningly beautiful dancer to watch. Clad in a bodice of tangled yarn, a costume created by Jane Townsend, Nann’s golden skin reflects a mosaic of colors washing over her as a kaleidoscopic light pattern twirls on the floor. Nann’s rhythmic breathing and graceful stretching folds and unfolds into the light, creating a graceful and magical beauty that allows you to feel privileged just to watch.

The final work, Piano / Quartet, takes up about half the program, and is danced by two men and two women costumed in rich-coloured silk taffeta suits. Farah plays a “prepared” grand piano at the back of the stage, a series of unusual sonatas and interludes composed by John Cage in the late 1940s. It adds an other-worldly accompaniment for the dancers, who interpret the snippets of music as if they are part of a giant timepiece, sometimes working mechanically in conjunction with one another, sometimes finding their own zones. The piece, unfortunately, goes on too long, and becomes a little too repetitive, and overly comfortable or familiar.

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From → Contemporary

3 Comments
  1. Awesome blog.. I read many pages of your blog but I just love this page about Peggy Baker Dance and also María Pagés Compañía 🙂

  2. Thanks for the pingback

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