In Conversation with Peggy Baker: “The music is the heart of the soul of In This Body”

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal

Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.

Fides Krucker and Peggy Baker, In This Body (photo: Jeremy Mimnagh)

I am gifted with the opportunity to ask five questions of dance legend Peggy Baker. . . what should they be?

It’s not as if a dancer-choreographer of her renown needs a larger spotlight. In fact, she devotes a considerable effort to shine the spotlight on others through her mentorship, teaching, and collaborations.

She has become synonymous with cerebral, exquisite choreographies that provide accessible entry points to an art form that she has propelled in unexpected and unconventional directions.

And she’s everywhere. A few weeks ago, a dancer with whom I grew up surprised me with an email enthusing about her unexpected opportunity to dance one of Ms Baker’s choreographies in last month’s Map By Years. Last year, the grade 12 dance majors at The Claude Watson Secondary Arts program performed her mesmerizing Flower: A Poem for Body and Breath set to an evocative soundscape by Debashis Sinha.

And this week Canadian Stage provides a new opportunity to see her perform a self-choreographed solo in Voices3: In this Body, conceived and sung by Fides Krucker. Part of the Voices3 Concert Series, In This Body also features dancers Laurence Lemieux and Heidi Strauss. Together, Ms Baker and her fellow artists explore the female Canadian songbook – from Joni Mitchell and k.d. lang to Lhasa de Sela, Feist, Hawksley Workman, and Serena Ryder.

There is so much to discuss with Ms Baker that settling on five questions is no simple task. Where to begin? And when to end? Of course, the much-anticipated world premiere of In this Body – a show inspired by Canada and performed by Canadians – helps to streamline the focus of my questions. But still….

Here is my conversation with Peggy Baker, one of Canada’s most influential choreographers.

SesayArts: Starting with the obvious thing to ask, can you tell us a bit about In This Body and give us a glimpse into your process for choreographing the show?

PB: In This Body is a music concert with dance, conceived by and starring vocalist Fides Krucker. There are three dancer/choreographers – Laurence Lemieux, Heidi Strauss and me – and we have each choreographed our own solos. Every dance goes with a song, so the choreography is inspired primarily by the lyrics.

SesayArts: What’s your favourite moment from In This Body?

PB: I have been listening to Joni Mitchell as a devoted fan since I was a girl of 15, and I dance to one of her early great songs – “Both Sides Now” – at the end of the show. It is uniquely touching for me.

SesayArts: You are renowned as much for your choreography as your collaborations…. Can you tell us about collaborative aspect of this show, with Fides Krucker as well as fellow dancers Laurence Lemieux and Heidi Strauss?

PB: The most intense and crucial collaboration for each of the choreographers has been with Fides. Apart from a fantastic duet for Heidi and Laurence, the choreographers didn’t really have a chance to collaborate with one another until we got into the theatre. The form of the show required us to work together to create all of the transitions from one song to the next and develop subtle staging concepts to frame each episode of In This Body.

SesayArts: What would you like us to know about the musical aspect of this show?

PB: The music is the heart of the soul of In This Body. Fides has assembled a magnificent Canadian songbook and developed thoroughly unique and powerful arrangements with the musicians who make up the band: Tania Gill, Germaine Liu and Rob Clutton. Fides is a tremendously adventurous singer, and she uses her voice in ways that are both unexpected and deeply affecting.

SesayArts: The description of In this Body begins “The wilderness of a woman’s heart, voiced through Canadian song and danced to the edge.” Can you tell us about the feminine and Canadian ideas that are such an integral part of this show?

PB: Songs by Canadian songwriters arise out of the land and of the lives lived here. Fides is a fearless and outspoken female artist. Her subject is her life, and the locus of her life is her body. Her voice brings every audience member into a direct encounter with the flesh and blood reality, the imagination and history, of a remarkable woman.

News You Can Use

What: Voices3: In This Body, Conceived and Sung by Fides Krucker; Choreographed and danced by Peggy Baker, Laurence Lemieux and Heidi Strauss; Music arranged and performed by Rob Clutton, Tania Gill and Germaine Liu
Who: Audiences of all ages
When: March 14-18, 2018; running time: 75 minutes (no intermission)
In This Body with post-show talkback: Thursday March 16, 2018, 8 PM
Where: Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley Street, Toronto, ON
Tickets and Info: Canadianstage.com and 416.368.3110

© 2018 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya

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