Stanley Fefferman reviews STEREOPHONIC by Peggy Baker Dances Projects

February 27, 2013. Betty Oliphant Theatre, Toronto.

Peggy Baker at 60, dancing: she moves mindfully, like a brushstroke over linen, like a tigress. Her newest solo, epilogue, is an essay on “the ironies, frustrations, and emptiness of absence and loss.” Ms. Baker has her say on this topic to the music–”we were, 2010” by Tim Motzer. She ritually rolls two wooden chairs into ideogrammatic shapes on the bare stage, walks off for a pause to consider, walks back to reposition them. When she is satisfied, one chair is upright, one is down on its side, exemplifying these lines from a poem by Eduardo Galleano: “A part of me died with him/ A part of him lives with me.”

Peggy Baker choreographed In A Landscape in 1995 to John Cage’s composition of the same name. It embodies the mystery of energy flowing in a closed system. John Farah lets Cage’s serene ambient music float up from the piano and fall softly as reflections of blossoms on a forest pool. Andrea Nann folds and unfolds herself like an origami crane standing at the bottom of a moonlit pool. Marc Parent’s lighting helps Ms. Nann appear to be dancing in zero gravity.

A word on the event title STEREOPHONIC. Ms. Baker’s notes make reference to the show’s recurrent pairings: ‘electro-acoustic’, “a dancer and musician performing on stage together….a stage divided in two with simultaneous events proceeding on either side.

The opening piece, Encoded Revision, has a jazzy, simultaneously serial and improv-sounding score by Michael J.Baker. John Kameel Farah, composer-pianist extraordinaire, is at the grandkeyboard, the floor near him littered with pages. Benjamin Kamino, costumed like a tramp by Caroline O’Brien extends his body by leaps and bounds around the stage all the while yelling details of a train accident. Kamino’s moves are natural expressions of his body, like the rituals a man might improvise to free himself from a litter of memories trapped in his flesh. The dancing has a wonderful craziness to it that for me recalls the antics of of Samuel Beckett’s Molloy.

Aleatoric Solo No. 1 is Ms. Baker’s sampling of the 10 work choreographic history she shares with dancer/choreographer Sahara Morimoto. As stagehands lay out a reflective tape bounding square, John Farah improvises electronic minimalist sounds on the console. Ms. Morimoto dances in her square, improvising over bits of Baker’s choreography, an energetic sequence that flicker by like a montage of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The premier of Ms. Baker’s Split Screen Stereophonic is, by her severe standards, an extravaganza. Two female dancers (Sarah Fregeau and Sahara Morimoto) face off on a set split by lighting and Larry Hahn’s two tastefully Zen backdrops. While electro-acoustics by Knuckleduster scrape, scuff, whine and gong, the two women walk in circles and make moves that mirror each other, in and out of sync, as ways of exploring parallels and variations in their relationship.

Enter Benjamin Kamino and Sean Ling. They couple up with the females for Baker’s first-ever duets that explore male-female relationships. The dances in both splits are negotiations: they form, develop, collapse, are renegotiated over a spectrum of intensity from mere tolerance, to fun, to tender passion. The stories are touching, although, like the love-affairs of your friends, they go on a bit too long before taking final shape. In the end both couples broke up: one couple, like the cat, came back.

The audience, myself included, was vocally enthusiastic about every piece. STEREOPHONIC plays at the Betty Oliphant Theatre till March 3.         Highly recommended.

This entry was posted in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.