Peggy Baker makes rare visit to Nanaimo

Peggy Baker was a theatre student when she discovered the world of dance and the Martha Graham techniques at a summer school in Alberta. 

“I completely fell in love with what my teacher was doing. I basically dropped everything and put all my attention in becoming a dancer,” Baker said. 

Since that fateful moment, Baker’s discovery has taken her around the world as a dancer and choreographer. It has also landed her a Governor General's Award and the highest civilian honour in Canada. 

Baker, 61, along with her dance partner, Larry Hahn, will be displaying her talents at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo on Saturday (Jan. 18). The duo will be performing two companion pieces, coalesce & armour. The inspiration behind coalesce & armour are Lewis Thomas’ scientific essays about social insects called The Lives of a Cell.

Baker was born in Edmonton and became involved in everything from piano to art and choir at a young age. When she reached high school she began to get involved with theatre.

“I was born in the '50s so I grew up at a time when women were really redefining themselves and their roles and how could they proceed in their lives and contemporary dance presented a very different image of women than I had ever seen before,” Baker said. “My attraction to theatre is that it had a huge range of possibilities for the female character.” 

In 1981, the Alberta native moved to New York where she began dancing with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company.

“That was a very important time in my dance life,” Baker said. “I moved there when I was 28-years-old, so right in my dancing prime.” 

Baker spent the next seven years travelling the world and growing as a dancer with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company. She cites her time with the New York based company as one the most important times in her career. 

“It expanded and deepened my artistry,” Baker said. “Prior to that time I was dancing to works by many different people but when you single-mindedly bring yourself to the aesthetic world of one person it’s very demanding. This is what made me the artist that I am today ... I do believe that if I hadn’t had that opportunity I wouldn’t have been able to meet my potential.” 

Baker left the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company in 1988 and went on to tour across the United States with Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project. A couple years later, she launched Peggy Baker Dance Project where she focused on a solo dancing and choreographer career. 

“I think a lot of people think that dance is self-expression and that it is wrapped around feelings and that we’re dancing out how we feel. But dance can respond to and capture influences from every aspect of life, not just our emotional life, but our intellectual life,” Baker said. 

In 1993, she was named artist-in-residence for the National Ballet School of Canada, where she taught. Baker explained that the dance world has been experiencing a massive youth movement since the late 1980s. 

“I think it has just exploded and I think it is tremendously vibrant,” Baker said. “It’s much more expansive now. It was very very narrow when I was young dancer; people either chose to focus on Broadway, television work, ballet, or modern dance. Now, people are crossing boundaries left and right and the range is really different now.” 

In 2006, Baker received the Order of Canada. The following year, she became the first ever winner of the Ontario Premier's Award for Excellence in the Arts. 

“It’s just a huge compliant because you are basically being chosen by all your peers ... the fact that dance and dancers are considered to be a form and a style of artistic practice and would be honoured by something like the Order of Canada gives the art form such a huge validation,” Baker said. “It is really quite overwhelming to be chosen for something like that because I practice my art in a mille of tremendous individuals that have all made incredible contributions ... to be singled out at moment is quite overwhelming. This is what I have given my whole life to and it is deeply reassuring that I spent my life wisely.”

For tickets, please call 250-754-8550 or visit www.porttheatre.com.


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