After world success, local choreographer premieres latest in town
For nearly 30 years Peggy Baker’s works have been moving audiences around the world. But this month, the celebrated choreographer and contemporary dancer premieres her new work here in Toronto.
The Leslieville resident first fell in love with dance while studying theatre at university. She enrolled in a class geared toward actors only to discover it taught the techniques of renowned modern dancer Martha Graham.
She was instantly hooked.
“I just completely changed direction,” Baker said. “I dropped out of university and I moved to Toronto from Edmonton and I just started dancing full time and within about four years I was a professional dancer.”
Baker’s career has taken her to South America, Europe and the Middle East. She spent 10 years in New York City as part of the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company and also toured the US alongside the world-famous Mikhail Baryshnikov when she danced with his White Oak Dance Project.
“He’s as great as he is because he puts everything into it,” Baker said of Baryshnikov. “He’s a very, very generous person to work with. Very inspiring.”
Baker went solo in 1991, giving her first solo performance in the Betty Oliphant Theatre, the same space where her upcoming showcase will be presented.
Running from Jan. 20–29, the sound and the feel of it is a program choreographed entirely by Baker. The show consists of three pieces, the first being In the Fire of Conflict in which rapper Bugsy H lays down vocals over a score composed by Christos Hatzis.
Although Baker originally danced when this piece was first performed at the 2008 Toronto Summer Music Festival, 25-year-old dancer Benjamin Kamino will perform it this time.
In the second piece, Baker hits the stage to reprise a solo she performed in 2008. The piece, which won her two Dora Mavor Moor Awards, is entitled Portal and is performed entirely in silence.
The final piece is a brand new work celebrating the centenary of the birth of innovative composer John Cage, a man who Baker calls an inspiration to her art due to his unique sense of creativity. The piece, called Piano/Quartet, was composed by Cage in the 1940s but sounds new age due to the adjustments made to the instruments.
“You put nuts and bolts and screws and elastics and what-not inside the strings of the piano so that when the keys are played it doesn’t sound like a piano anymore,” Baker said. “It sounds like a gamelan or a little xylophone.”
From rappers to tricked-out pianos to no accompaniment at all, Baker draws inspiration from all sorts of sources and said fans should expect the unexpected at her shows.
“When we go to a museum and we expect to see modern art, that could mean sculpture, video, painting, photography, film,” she said. “When we go to the theatre to see contemporary dance we need to arrive with a sense of curiosity and an open mind because truly it could incorporate many, many different kinds of influences.
“I think they’re going to see something beautiful and fascinating and invigorating,” she says.
“I think they’re going to be awe-struck by the abilities of the dancers and the musicians.”
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