University of Calgary

Dance icon Peggy Baker returns

UToday HomeJanuary 11, 2013

By Heath McCoy

Peggy BakerPeggy Baker will bring coalesce and armour to the University Theatre on Jan. 18 and 19, and will provide a unique opportunity to dance students. Photo by Cylla von TiedemannIt seems, at first, to be a rather surprising source of inspiration for a work of contemporary dance.

Surely the interaction of insects, as described in the science essays of Lewis Thomas in his acclaimed seventies work The Lives of a Cell, would not translate as a form of choreography for most of us.

But for Peggy Baker – one of the most influential contemporary dancers of her generation – the writing offered a wellspring of ideas. This was the spark that gave life to coalesce and armour, companion pieces by Peggy Baker Dance Projects, which will be presented Jan. 18 and 19 at the University Theatre.

“The thing that really touched me about these social insects was their communication in this kind of utopian society,” says Baker from her Toronto home. “Each individual contributes in an intuitive way to building something none of them could do on their own.”

It is this “chain of communication” that fired Baker’s imagination as coalesce and armour took shape. Baker choreographed the former piece and she performs in the latter, by award winning choreographer Doug Varone.

“A lot of the time the dancers in my piece are using their limbs as if they’re almost antennae,” says Baker, 60, who first began dancing while studying theatre at the University of Alberta in 1970.

Launching her storied career in Toronto, Baker was a founding member of Dancemakers in 1974. In the 1980s she toured internationally with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company and she danced with such giants of the art form as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Mark Morris. In 1990 she started her own company, Peggy Baker Dance Projects, through which she has created and commissioned productions performed around the world.

Along with an honorary doctorate from the University of Calgary Baker has also collected a Governor General’s Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Order of Canada and the Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, among other distinguished honours.

Calgary performances of coalesce and armour will be preceded by a 25-minute Audio Action Tour, including video footage, choreographic demonstrations by the dancers, and a commentary from Baker on the genesis of the works.

“I hope that the audience’s enjoyment will be enhanced by this,” says Baker. “They’ll get inside information which will really bring the dances to life on another level.”

Baker will also be providing a unique opportunity to University of Calgary dance students while in the city with a project called The Choreographer’s Trust.

Baker has put together a series of DVDs and accompanying booklets documenting dances key to her career. Students have been working with this material to reconstruct the dance Unfold. While in Calgary, Baker will coach the dancers, preparing them for a large ensemble version, which they will perform during an annual presentation of Dance@Night, running April 11 and 12.