by Peggy Baker Dance Projects
January 22, 2016, 8:30 pm
Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis Street, Toronto
by David Fujino
On January 22nd I visited the Betty Oliphant Theatre to experience Phase Space, the latest full-length dance work by the masterful choreographer and dancer Peggy Baker.
Phase Space revealed Baker’s theatre origins. When she was still a theatre student, Baker first started developing an interest in dance; and tonight’s collaborative stage designs (Larry Hahn) and lighting (Marc Parent) fit each of her four component dances, hand in glove, as in theatre.
Looking back at the stage design of skewed lines, horizontal lines, the line of chairs, the blocks of white light on the stage and a backlit tilted white panel, the stage was clearly designed to present Baker’s exceptional performers in the best light possible — at least, that’s what the audience saw in each of the four chapters of Phase Space where Baker has drawn on and expanded upon moments from her previous works.
As for the title, Phase Space, this is how Baker explains it. In phase space, “time and space are stretched and squeezed in different directions, creating a structured but chaotic rearrangement of events.” In this case, she asked her dancers to choose 10 peak dance moments and out of these moments and the emotions contained, she would design new dances. Time and Space. Time (memory) is represented by a dancer’s body memory; space is redesigned to project these memories dramatically to an audience.
The curtain opened on Ric Brown leisurely exploring the space, regularly stepping up on a tiny then regular-sized chair, left to right, only to step down from the big chair and pace on the floor behind both of the chairs. After some time, Brown started ‘voicing’, emitting raw and gut-deep sounds that sounded natural and hauntingly ‘interesting’, especially for a dancer. With the gradual entrance of Sahara Morimoto and Sarah Fregeau, the possibilities for interaction and voicing further increased; meanwhile, each danced their separate and individual concerns on stage to eventually express them in full-bodied individual shrieks and cries.
Obviously Fides Krucker, the vocalographer, was asked to collaborate with Baker — this is the second time — on this specific chapter of Phase Space. The whole idea of giving voices to dancers is clearly of great interest to Peggy Baker because it expands the range of expression normally mute dancers can deliver, and it turns everything otherworldly for the audience. For her part, Morimoto consistently had an impish quality in her voicing and frequent body rolls across the floor. Sarah Fregeau and Ric Brown danced in upright positions, staying in their own lines on the floor, and voicing.
After a brief blackout and swooshing electronic sweeps and shudders from the keyboard of John Kameel Farrah, the curtain was raised to reveal Sahara Morimoto standing in the middle of a diamond-shaped rectangle taped on the floor. She danced upright, wheeling, mostly stretching, striding, and gradually accelerating in the marked-out space. She never stepped out of bounds. The dancer is designed. We wonder, what recurring memories did the dancer have? … Will we ever know? … Fade to black.
The curtain next rose on Andrea Nann and Sahara Morimoto, each seated at their place on a checkerboard; their movements were different, opposing and even contradictory (as in memories?) At one point, an upper left square and a lower right square lit up — seated on the upper left was Morimoto, whose arms and shoulders were in slow motion as if waking up for the day, while on a lower right square sat Andrea Nann, squatting on her heels and very much looking the part of a Sphinx overseeing life; it was an emotional moment, a collision of two separate dance moments.
After another brief blackout, accompanied by the beats and shimmers of John Kameel Farah, we found, on curtain’s rise, Kate Holden dancing among striped horizontals and skewed banded angles; this was, perhaps, the most stretched out and distorted design of all the dances tonight. Notably, Holden’s unsettling shrieks were ‘in character’ and arresting. Finding your true voice for a Peggy Baker dance segment reminded me of the individual ‘kii-ai!’ cries that Japanese martial artists search for when practising kendo, judo, or karate. Again, the creative contribution of Fides Krucker to voicing in Holden’s solo dance was revealed in the performance. It was all there on the stage.
By combining contemporary dance, voicing, live music and set design, Peggy Baker has found new ways to push her work forward in modern dance. I like the present path she’s on — it invigorates dance and theatre in a market geared to blockbusters.
Phase Space by Peggy Baker Dance Projects
Friday, January 22 to 31, 2016, at 8:30 pm
at Betty Oliphant Theatre, 404 Jarvis Street, Toronto M4Y 2G6