Peggy Baker Dance Projects presents he:she

May 6, 2014 at 8:53 pm

March 28, 2014, to April 6, 2014
Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis Street, Toronto

by David Fujino.

he-she imagePeggy Baker’s new show, he:she, opened Friday night with a stunning and varied series of four works.

Carrying over, it seems, from last year’s Split Screen Stereophonic show, the whiff of mortality was especially palpable and it informed Baker’s solo piece, Box, la femme au carton (2011), choreographed by Paul-Andre Fortier and splendidly and simply danced by Baker.

After a slow-moving counter-clockwise series of rotations—upright and statuesque—with her left arm raised, Baker gradually came to a full stop, gazing upstage right on a 45 degree diagonal. Later phases of the solo found Baker in an extreme lunge, with her opposite leg stretched lengthwise on the floor, as she intently stared at the box she held in front of her; or there was Baker, back flat on the floor, crawling backwards into the box from where she came—a lot of it was quite existential.

At one of several key points, when the music changed, Baker briefly lifted the right edge of her sweater to gently touch a patch of bare stomach. A second time, to the sounds of crumbling static, she raised her right arm in greeting. At another moment, she touched her exposed left waist area with the palm of her left hand. At the end, Baker kept her distance from the box which sat at centre stage.

The changing arcs of a male/female relationship formed the substance of Aleatoric Duet No. 2 (premiere). But it’s Baker’s way to propose a system—like in games—in which Andrea Nann and Sean Ling are engaged in a duet which amounts to a form of anti-duet played out on a changing illuminated 16-point grid cast onto the stage floor. The glistening keyboard improvisations of John Kameel Farah served as a generator and a backdrop for the dancers, but tonight, the dancers were strictly playing by Baker’s rules.

Meanwhile, the audience might expect to see the dancers look at each other, move towards each other, and often mirror each other’s movements—but instead, it appeared that the dancers had assembled their dances separately, and this produced what Baker the choreographer was looking for—exciting parallels, intersections and disconnections, and quick counterpointed movements on top of the piece’s ever-expanding and contracting lit-up chess board. The expressive full body movements of Andrea Nann and Sean Ling were delectable.

stone leaf shell skin (premiere) was a slightly more conventional work because it contrasts starkly with Baker’s other game-like works that contain and constrain the related-and-unrelated movements of the dancers. In this work, the three male dancers—Ric Brown, Sean Ling, and Mateo Galindo Torres— are an interdependent trio. They curl and uncurl at the same time, and they inter-relate extremely well. Occasionally a spiky individuality revealed itself when a dancer, just for a moment, was seen deliberately looking off in a different direction from the other two dancers. A lonely choreographed moment amidst all the solitudes.

Inspired by the great American photographer, Edward Weston, and his sexy black and white photos of organic forms such as leaves, green peppers, cabbage, and Nautilus shells, stone leaf shell skin featured the trio—the ever-moving male dancers—framed by the open spaces of Heather Schmidt’s sonorous score, where long held notes suggested a wide open and tiered horizontal prairie space, where cellist Shauna Rolston got to experience her own private ecstasies as she responded to the supple give-and-take movements of the male dancers. The stage rang with drones (long held notes), through which, cellist Rolston bowed a mid-range throaty rhapsody. Life was lived.

Then Sylvan Quartet (1998) busted out in the form of Sahara Morimoto, whose physical beauty and strong athleticism instantly projected poise and dynamic creativity. She mostly danced within the L- shaped space between clarinettist Max Christie, cellist Shauna Rolston, and John Kameel Farah on acoustic piano. And when Christie and Farah exited, this left cellist Shauna Rolston alone on stage with Morimoto, and when Rolston whistled ‘a little night music’ on the darkened stage, the atmosphere shifted to haunting.

Baker had wanted to give her dancers the unique experience of dancing to live music, and in the case of her artistic associate, Sahara Morimoto, she surely wanted Morimoto to shine in Sylvan Quartet. Morimoto burns. And she’s en pointe.  And swift. And strong.

But characteristically, despite the strong conceptual framework that distinguishes much of Baker’s choreography, Morimoto ended up dancing to her own inner music, whereas, Chan Ka Nin’s music— played by cellist Shauna Rolston, Max Christie on clarinet, and John Kameel Farah on piano—was equally outstanding, and an inspiring live force of vibrations for the dancers.

Perhaps this season’s show lacked the more structured pieces of 2013’s Split Screen Stereophonic, but nonetheless, on the important matter of high quality choreography and high quality dancers, he:he succeeded mightily. It was a success. It was interesting work. You wanted to see them dance again.

– David Fujino