Peggy Baker Dance Projects

May 31, 2013 at 2:43 am

by David Fujino

Peggy Baker Dance Projects presents 
“Stereophonic” @ Betty Oliphant Theatre, Toronto
Wednesday, February 27 to Sunday, March 3, 2013

Legendary dancer Peggy Baker explored the many levels of male-female intimacy throughout Stereophonic, her programme of five magnetic duos which had the highly alert audience applauding each and every time.

Baker’s rigorously constructed choreography was deeply satisfying on several levels.

For one, the overall title, Stereophonic, was an interesting choice, with its old-school echoes of stereo record players and left and right channels that just as easily led to thoughts about male and female and dance duos.

In the premiere piece, Aleatoric Solo No. 1, there was a distinct sense of Baker passing on the torch to Japan-born Sahara Morimoto who’s danced as part of the Baker ensemble for 15 years. in 2008 she became an Artistic Associate of Peggy Baker Dance Projects. As Peggy Baker has said, there’s a “choreographic history” she and Morimoto share, and this piece was all about capturing peak “movements and moments” of Morimoto’s dancing in ten of Baker’s pieces.

The piece started by revealing two people, then Morimoto, then more crew members walking onto the bare stage, with two crew members taping a metallic silver frame onto the black floor for Morimoto to dance in. Her highly animated and precise head and shoulder movements were expressed in a film-like continuous flow — in fact, the whole dance on stage played out like a film projection of flickering peak moments powered by the industrial sound score of John Kameel Farah’s keyboard improvisations.

As for Benjamin Kamino — Toronto-born and living and working between Montreal, Toronto, and parts of Europe — he held our attention and gained our respect through a star-quality interpretation of Encoded Revision, an earlier piece based on a Baker family story about the death of a great grandfather in a train accident in 1898. With a pigtail and wearing a derby hat, white shirt, trousers and suspenders, Kamino danced and walked and vaulted into the air, and when he spoke in voice and gestures both descriptive and anguished and said — “Fire!” the dancer exploded high into the air. Later turning his body slowly and pacing across the floor from left to right, he said, “Both the engineer and the fireman must have been killed instantly.” … “Funeral in Moose Jaw.”

Of course, to describe his explosive physicality, soaring leaps, and the clockwise arc of movement around the piano, all the while speaking and telling a story, would barely begin to describe Kamino’s multi-layered performance and re-interpretation of this Baker dance. At one point in the duo, keyboardist Farah responded in a brief call-and-response pattern to Kamino’s words, but for the most part, Farah fed directly into the multi-dimensional historical story being danced. And when Kamino lay on the floor, covered over by piles of music manuscript paper, he uncovered himself in a series of backward somersaults, as if curling away from the history and stories on the papers, while the gold ember of lighting (memory) on the black piano, faded to black.

But when it came to more intimate, explicitly male-female duos — In A Landscape, featuring a stellar Andrea Nann, and the evening’s premiere centrepiece, Split Screen Stereophonic, which featured four exceptional ensemble dancers — took us right there.

In A Landscape found Andrea Nann — self-possessed, spot-lit, her long line gorgeous, poised en pointe on a slow rotating turntable, she was seemingly responsive to an inner music, as dappled lighting over time gradually fell upon her. Pianist Farah’s playing of John Cage’s In A Landscape from opposing stage right contributed a steady sound image of a precisely lit, ever-falling curtain of rain. The duo resolved when the dappled lighting again fell upon Nann as if to suggest, in her ending was her beginning. Back full circle. Once she came down from the turntable, the dancer curtsied to her piano partner, he bowed, and the stage went black.

Split Screen Stereophonic dove right into the kind of chemistry and constant negotiations that make up a woman’s role in male-female couplings. Here the (Stereophonic) idea of two’s was conceptually and physically split further in half as the women — Sarah Fregeau and Sahara Morimoto — entered, and in their separately halved sections of the stage, embodied in their active movements and ever-changing gazes, the similar yet different experiences in their relationship with a male partner: the women made the same moves, except one faced backwards, and one faced the audience.

When two men entered — dancers Benjamin Kamino and Sean Ling —the interaction of two parallel male-female couples became the main business on stage, with the couples anxiously wondering, amidst all their activity, what does the other person really want? The well-executed movements and gestures were behaviourally consistent and clearly mirroring and insistently changing. For these are busy and complicated relationships and often times the duos were seen going off in different and even contrary emotional directions. In this instance, the music for these male-female couples was a generated sound of idling motors and engines created by the collaborative group, Knuckleduster, and Toronto’s Debashis Sinha.

And last, and certainly not least, was Peggy Baker herself, dancing a premiere piece in commemoration of the death of her husband. Baker made herself vulnerable in epilogue which avoided cliché, yet expressed her sense of absence and loss through movement and the artful manipulation of objects in her distinctly masterful, personal, and coherent way.

epilogue derived from a rehearsal where Baker happened to come upon and grasp a pair of chairs and she said to herself, ‘This is a couple.’ And so began the building of a dance in which Baker deliberately moved and tilted one chair away from the other, at times reclining on the floor, where she might pair and unpair, or upturn one chair and let it gently rest in front of the other. Then standing, a hand flew to the head — the telling gesture — and this became a hinge point for Baker’s further working out of her feelings of grief and loss right through to the ending, where one chair was tilted onto the floor, and the other sat upright. This was not a couple. Baker exited.