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Peggy Baker, Renowned Solo Artist, Chats with Christine Jowers

Peggy Baker, Renowned Solo Artist, Chats with Christine Jowers
Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram

By Christine Jowers/Follow @cmmjowers on Instagram
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Published on February 21, 2012
Photo by John Lauener

As She Prepares Her First New York Appearance In 12 (or so) Years as part of the 92nd Street Y's Harkness Dance Festival

Peggy Baker Back in New York...

Peggy Baker is coming back, to dance in New York after 12 years (at least that’s what it says in the press release announcing her performances this weekend.)  But when I spoke to her on the phone from Canada she couldn’t seem to remember if that number was right. Time flies and she tries to get to the New York whenever she can. Maybe it was 12 years since she performed here with her own company?    


Peggy Baker in Portal, Photo by John Lauener
Baker was last in town to dance with Doug Varone (a colleague and good friend from her early days with Lar Lubovitch) when he choreographed Dense Terrain for his 20th year anniversary at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. That was 2007.  The evening length work contained “a precise and austere” duet, armour, originally created for dancers, Natalie Desch and Daniel Charon. Baker asked if she could add the duet to her repertoire and Varone generously agreed. 
This weekend, she will perform armour with Larry Hahn when her company Peggy Baker Dance Projects is featured in Varone’s Stripped/Dressed Series at the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Festival.  Also on the bill are two of Baker’s own choreographies: Portal, a solo for herself, and coalesce, a trio for the dancers: Sean Ling, Sahara Morimoto and Andrea Nann.
“All three pieces share the same jumping off point,” says Baker.
Varone’s Dense Terrain was inspired by Lewis Thomas’ 1974 collection of essays The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher. Baker who read the book in the 70’s, re- read it and was intrigued by the patterns of social organisms. “Ideas turn me on,” she says, they “invite me to go places…the pathway is choreography.”
Oddly enough, another friend, Canadian visual artist, Sylvie Safdie presented Baker with films she had just created. These films showed close-ups of ants and beetles on Safdie’s countertop moving forward and backward in slow motion.
Here was choreographic structure and the interest in social organisms popping up in another way.  The interests shared with her artistic colleagues inform Baker’s work, but she offers new interpretations.
She is especially thrilled to have the opportunity to share her interpretations in New York. This will be the first time she is bringing her ensemble to perform here. Later, when I ask if I could grant her any wish in the world, she responds, “To work with my dancers, and have the freedom to work with them all the time.”

One might wonder why the need to choreograph for a group after 20 years of notoriety as a compelling solo performer and choreographer.  “I was curious about it…the idea of being in charge of what was going on…and not to be in the studio all the time by myself,” she admits.
At almost 60 years old, Baker sees her life in chapters. There is the chapter when she was a very young dancer working with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, dancing there with Varone, Mark Morris, and Christine Wright. It is an experience she regards as a “wonderful confluence of people” who were “ not about perfecting the surface, but mining the depths …to find ‘essential’ movement.” She then continued her company dancer experience working with Morris’ and Mikhail Baryshnikov when they formed The White Oak Dance Project in the 1990’s.
A new chapter opened when Baker asked herself the question,“What would I do if I were left to my own devices?” She had worked with Molissa Fenley and Tere O’ Connor, both of whom spent lots of time alone creating.  “Could she do it?” she wondered. Her search for that answer led to her 20-year career of glorious solo dancing.
But what would the vocabulary she worked so hard to create look like on more than one body? That was the inevitable next question.

“What is most liberating and immediate when working with a company (as opposed to solo work) is the ability to leap beyond the body and its’ technique and live out possibilities through the dancers, ” I can hear Baker’s delight at this over the phone. " What takes longer is aligning aesthetics".


Peggy Baker Dance Projects in coalesce, Photo by John Lauener
Baker sees the torso, or corps, as the catalyst for all movement, and the dancers she works with need to be able to fully investigate and understand that principle.
Although you wouldn’t immediately recognize it when looking at her dancing or choreography, Baker’s primary training was in the Graham technique, a system that involves moving from the contraction and release of the torso. This torso emphasis is a physical value she shares with Varone and Lubovitch that comes out of their training with Graham, Limón and Cunningham. “They may disagree,” she adds with a laugh.
When Baker also admits to also loving gesture, I suddenly remembered an interview on Canadian radio where she shared the fact that her long limbs gave her the opportunity to make an imprint on space that could be easily readable and communicative, however huge the theater. To connect and communicate through her body is crucial to this soft-spoken artist.
Her overarching belief is that movement can deliver us to a human experience and to comprehension of concepts larger than ourselves. I also notice that in describing her career she leaves out the many awards and distinctions she has garnered over the years: including the Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Achievement (2009), the 2006 Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario, and the 2010 Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts.


Peggy Baker and Larry Hahn in armour, Photo by John Lauener

Baker reflects,“Everything is a process of becoming. You come to a threshold in whatever you are doing that leads you to a new exploration.”

When she worked with Baryshnikov in The White Oak Dance Project she thought, “Here was a man who just left the directorship of The American Ballet Theatre to be a dancer in an eight-member-modern-dance company. To the outside world that could seem like such a huge shift.”
But it wasn’t. Baker saw that this great artist, on a very personal level, was fulfilling an organic motivation. His example taught her to appreciate that, in life, “These steps are not final destinations, but places we arrive at through a need to explore.”
This weekend, we welcome Peggy Baker and her dancers to New York to share their ideas and explorations in movement with us. Will it lead to more performances and possibilities to collaborate steadily in the future? I wonder what Baker will discover. For now she reminds me, and all of us who love dance, “We are part of a community, discovering what we have to contribute by doing it.”


Don't Miss Peggy Baker's Performance This Weekend!
February 24th at 8pm
February 25th at 8pm
February 26th at 3pm
For Tickets and More Info Click Here....

 Just for the fun of it.... a play with words



An analysis of the final section of this article from the site WORDLE ( very cool)

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