Monday, January 23, 2012

Peggy Baker’s the sound and the feel of it

Peggy Baker’s most recent dance project, the sound and the feel of it, currently running at the Betty Oliphant Theatre is a diverse tour de force that runs the gamut from explosive rap stylings to a solo piece that invites the audience to share the silence of the theatre with Baker as she performs her stunning 2008 Dora award winning piece entitled Portal. At this point in her long career as an internationally acclaimed solo dancer Baker has decided to feature other dancers as the focus of her choreographic work. By placing her solo work in the middle of the current program, without musical accompaniment, she sets up an iconic epicenter for these young performers to emerge through, revealing themselves as highly skilled dancers capable of superb ensemble work as well as virtuoso feats of pure dance magic.

In the opening piece, In the Fire of Conflict Benjamin Kamino takes the stage and battles it out with a score that moves relentlessly through a melange of delicate tinkling sounds coupled with thunderous vocal rap stylings. There are times when the harsher tones, although powerful and evocative, tend to overwhelm the choreography, but Kamino comes through it all on top as he delivers a stunning rendition of Baker’s deeply nuanced dance vocabulary set to Christos Hatzi’s powerful multi-layered music.

Portal, Baker’s solo, features the sharp and brilliant rectangular lighting effects of Marc Parent. The performer’s simple elegant costume by Caroline O’Brien and the taut angular qualities of her body give the piece an intriguing flow that moves from one geometric lighting space to another, all done in complete silence. The overall effect of the solo acts as a centrifugal tour de force - a kind of quiet kinetic punctuation to the more thunderous accompaniment of the other two segments.

By highlighting both costume and lighting in the current program Baker gives visual voice to her desire to bring these “very close collaborators [costume and lighting designers] more to the awareness of the people. To say, these are the people who helped to shape my aesthetic. And now these are the dancers who are carrying my choreographic ideas forward as I finish my own dance life.”

The final section, entitled Piano/Quartet utilizes gorgeous costuming by Caroline O’Brien that might have been better served had it been withdrawn by degree throughout the piece, thereby exposing more of the angularity of the bodies as the work progressed. Set to John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes (1948) Baker’s choreography seems to cry out for more of a physical and visual progression/viscosity than the costumes allow. As it stands, Piano/Quartet is in an intriguing and demanding collection of ensemble and solo segments that interpret Cage’s work in a flawless series of vignette-like moments that are at times hampered by garments that do not allow the body to fully inhabit Baker’s detailed movements. Had the costuming provided a more explosive visual field for the bodies to emerge through, the poems Baker is interpreting from Cage might have seemed somewhat less obscure. Similarly, by giving the audience no access to the actual poetry it is difficult to imagine the import of these two forms, dance and poetry, coming together in a fully integrated manner.

The overall program presents audiences with an exciting new chapter in the career of a great dancer and choreographer whose presence within the sound and the feel of it allows her to re-introduce herself as a fine soloist committed to an ongoing project of brilliant collaboration.

running January 25-29, Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis Street

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