constant state of evolution: summer training

As a masterful dance educator, Peggy Baker invests deeply in the on-going practice of dance pedagogy and in artists honing their craft. With her upcoming annual Dance Educators' Seminar (August 7 - 10, 2018), and August Intensive (August 13 - 17, 2018), we asked her a few questions about what participants can expect.

A Q&A with Peggy on the Dance Educators' Seminar and August Intensive 2018

photo: jeremy mimnagh, dance educators' seminar 2017 

photo: jeremy mimnagh, dance educators' seminar 2017 

Can you tell us a little about what you enjoy about the Dance Educators’ Seminar? And the August Intensive?

I love the wide open exchange with colleagues during the Dance Educators’ Seminar – the refreshing stimulation of new materials, approaches, and points of view around working with students at different stages of training. It is also exceptional to have technique classes designed for practitioners who are primarily teachers rather than active dancers – classes that work with a high level of nuanced and sophisticated information, and well-considered physical demands. The August Intensive attracts a wide range of dancers concerned with expanding their physical and expressive capabilities. The mix of backgrounds and objectives creates an exciting context for coming together.

photo: makoto hirata, dance educators' seminar 2015

photo: makoto hirata, dance educators' seminar 2015

photo: makoto hirata, dance educators' seminar 2015

photo: makoto hirata, dance educators' seminar 2015

What sort of needs are you addressing when you develop the curriculum with the invited faculty?

Dance is in a constant state of evolution but fundamentally the underlying concerns are: how to develop capability and expertise; how to prepare for and recover from the extraordinary demands of class, rehearsal, performance; how to expand and deepen our artistry as teachers, performers, creators.

photo: jeremy mimnagh, august intensive 2017

photo: jeremy mimnagh, august intensive 2017

What kind of personal development do you see happen with participants in these programs?

Whenever we apply ourselves with awareness, intensity and a sense of purpose we make good progress. That’s why intensive workshops are so powerful – we all set aside the time and invest the energy.

photo: jeremy mimnagh, january 2018. peggy directing who we are in the dark, which will be taught in her repertoire workshops at the august intensive

photo: jeremy mimnagh, january 2018. peggy directing who we are in the dark, which will be taught in her repertoire workshops at the august intensive

What are you looking forward to about this year’s programs and your classes?

I am especially excited to have Sylvain Lafortune teaching partnering at both workshops this summer. A great dance artist, a masterful teacher, his approach is singular, and highly refined through many years of exploration and development, including a doctoral thesis on partnering. I look forward to Jennifer Bolt’s presentations on student transitions into and throughout high demand / high intensity pre-professional training as part of the Dance Educators’ Seminar. It is always a huge pleasure to welcome participants to the gorgeous studios of Canada’s National Ballet School, and to be able to offer classes by Christine Wright, and to work alongside dancers from my company.

photo: georgie donais, dance educators' seminar 2015

photo: georgie donais, dance educators' seminar 2015

Are there any tips or advice you would share with anyone who is interested in either program?

Don’t be afraid to jump in! There is a huge diversity in age and training among the participants, and the breadth of approaches is what makes these workshops so exciting and powerful.

photo: jeremy mimnagh, august intensive 2017

photo: jeremy mimnagh, august intensive 2017

photo: jeremy mimnagh, august intensive 2017

photo: jeremy mimnagh, august intensive 2017

The Dance Educators' Seminar (Aug 7 - 10, 2018) offers 4 full-days of workshops for dance educators.
The August Intensive (Aug 13 - 17, 2018) offers full stream, workshop, or drop-in options.

who we are in the moment

We recently sat down with composers and musicians Jeremy Gara and Sarah Neufeld from Arcade Fire, and chatted about their experience working with Peggy on who we are in the dark for the upcoming Canadian tour in 2019.

 
Jeremy and Sarah

Jeremy and Sarah

 

1. How did you become involved with who we are in the dark?

Jeremy Gara: Sarah mentioned ages ago this wonderful collaboration she had done with Peggy, and as her excitement grew and morphed into future plans, she brought me in to collaborate as well. Sarah and I play in a band together and have also worked together as a duo, so we have a pretty easy and natural way of playing together - and now I’m spoiled to be brought into this amazing project with PB!
Sarah Neufeld: I collaborated with Peggy a couple years ago; a short piece with the two of us performing side by side [fractured black]. It was incredible working together - so much fierceness and grace. Peggy brought up the idea of doing a full length collaboration with her company and I jumped at the chance.

2. What do you enjoy about working on a dance performance? How is it working with Peggy and the other collaborators?

JG: It’s amazing to be able to work in the moment with the dancers: it’s incredible what the choreography and the movement can do to push and pull the music in different directions. Peggy is wonderful to work with…she has a clear vision and purpose but is at the same time SO open to ideas and open to change, both with us as musicians and with her dancers. She has total trust in their instincts and respect for their artistry and it’s really, completely in the moment. It’s a wonderful, positive work environment.
SN: My music has always been informed in some way by movement, by the body, by a kind of kinetic aliveness. Writing with and for dance feels very natural, challenging but in such a good way. I feel it pushes me in all the right directions. I’m inspired by Peggy’s process, her energy, her focus, and the general amazing attitude and openness of her entire company.

 
Sarah in rehearsal at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Photography by Jeremy Mimnagh.

Sarah in rehearsal at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Photography by Jeremy Mimnagh.

 

3. How is this collaboration different from your other artistic processes?

JG: Well, I usually just work on musical collaborative projects or completely on my own in my solo pursuits, so it’s always different! Different people, different energies, different city. Always a fresh look!
SN: This is the first time I’ve ever worked on a full length dance piece. I’ve worked on lengthly projects before; film scores, albums etc, but this is totally different in the way the work emerges and evolves. A lot of the music is being created for already choreographed scenes, so that’s giving us a lot of different information than the type of imagination palette when starting from a solely musical jumping off point. It’s actually allowing Jeremy and I to find new ways of playing together that we might not have ever found otherwise.

 
Jeremy in Rehearsal at Canada's National Ballet School

Jeremy in Rehearsal at Canada's National Ballet School

 

4. Have you ever performed live with contemporary dancers? If not, what do you think about it? What kind of rush does it give you?

JG: I have, actually. I used to work frequently with Le Groupe Dance Lab in Ottawa when I was younger. It’s actually where I first explored composing music that wasn’t in a traditional “rock band” sort of environment. It’s really a whole different world, on an artistic level, all the way down to the technical and logistical level. 
SN: I have as well, and it’s always totally unique and super satisfying on so many levels!  

Jeremy Gara. Photography by Brantley Gutierrez

Jeremy Gara. Photography by Brantley Gutierrez

Sarah Neufeld. photography by Lisa Fleischmann

Sarah Neufeld. photography by Lisa Fleischmann

5. What excites you the most about who we are in the dark?

JG: JUST GETTING STARTED! It’s all pretty exciting because it’s just taking shape! The dancers are amazing and the work is really, really strong. There are moments where I get really lost in the moment and that’s the best feeling, honestly. 
SN: Yeah, me too. Some of the music I’ve been really immersed in the working of already, but there’s the whole of it still very much unfolding, so there’s this wonderful tension between feeling like we have a handle on something tangible, and being in a very raw unknowing state of creation.

 

who we are in the dark has its World Premiere with Canadian Stage / Fall for Dance North February 21-24, 2019. Tickets are on sale now!

Fashioning A Body of Work: A Map By Years

By costume designer Caroline O’Brien

Caroline is curating a beautiful costume exhibit at The Theatre Centre as part of Map by Years from Feb 21-25.

I first met Peggy Baker when she arrived to the stage of the Betty Oliphant Theatre for a rehearsal with a group of ballet students.  I remember that day in the fall of 1989 as though it were yesterday; fast forward a few decades and now we are engaged in a project aptly entitled Map by Years.  That first meeting marked the beginning of an important collaboration that saw the fashioning of many one-of-a-kind costumes created for Ms. Baker over the arc of her 20 year solo career.

 
Peggy in  Brute . Costume by Jane Townsend. Photo by Lois Greenfield.

Peggy in Brute. Costume by Jane Townsend. Photo by Lois Greenfield.

vivian reiss.  Peggy,  2001 .  oil on canvas.

vivian reiss. Peggy, 2001oil on canvas.

 

Ms. Baker has always had a deep respect and appreciation for her collaborators, and the costume designers are no exception.  Now, as she maps the years with a beautiful array of dance, she has chosen to offer a retrospective of some of the singular works through some of their designers: Susan Macpherson, Denis Lavoie, Jane Townsend and myself, Caroline O’Brien.  During the 2018 performance at the Theatre Centre a spotlight will shine on some of the exquisite one of a kind costumes created for Ms. Baker, installed in the spacious second floor gallery that leads directly into the performance space.

 
Peggy in  Strand.  Costume by  Caroline O'Brien. Photo By V. Tony Hauser.

Peggy in Strand. Costume by  Caroline O'Brien. Photo By V. Tony Hauser.

 

The main narrative of the exhibition uses dressmakers’ stands to show finished costumes on display, as a way to emphasize the comprehensive design process with stages in the birth of each costume according to the style of each designer.  It follows a number of pieces from inception and initial design through cutting, sewing and after life.  This opportunity to showcase a collaborative process through different designers will include renderings, photographs, and archival documentation in addition to the garments themselves.

 
Peggy in  Non Coupable.  COstume by Susan Macpherson. Photo By Cylla Von Tiedemann.

Peggy in Non Coupable. COstume by Susan Macpherson. Photo By Cylla Von Tiedemann.

 
Peggy in  In a Landscape . Costume by Jane Townsend. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

Peggy in In a Landscape. Costume by Jane Townsend. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.

 

The intent of the exhibition is to offer elements of a creative process and the craft and making aspects that are often withheld from the audience’s purview.  It will offer new perspectives on the development and construction of singular and traditional dressmaking techniques and the skills required to fashion them, through the work of several designers.  Using a combination of visual and prose narratives, the exhibition is intended to deepen and broaden the viewer’s understanding of the creative and technical aspects of creating dance costumes.  The objects on view illustrate a valuable contribution to Canadian theatrical dance history.

Map by Years is running at The Theatre Centre Feb 21-25. Get your tickets here.

Mapping a Journey

Sarah Chase is a Canadian independent dancer and choreographer and has established her reputation as a solo dance artist, presenting her works on tour across Canada and Europe. Sarah has choreographed and directed unmoored, which Peggy will be performing as part of Map by Years February 21-25, 2018 at The Theatre Centre.

1. How did you and Peggy meet?

I first met Peggy when I was a student at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre in 1988.

2. Tell us about your first experience dancing for Peggy.

Her teaching and presence were a revelation. She was dancing in New York at the time, and was our guest teacher for a week. She blew our minds: this striking, brilliant, tall, totally articulate woman, both in the way she moved and in the way she spoke. Forthright, full of light, with the passion, vibrancy and clarity of all that she had been inspired by in dancing in New York and internationally. She had been dancing for Lar Lubovitch, Mark Morris, and had been developing new ways of considering movement and kinesthetic anatomy with Irene Dowd. She made me feel like dance language was an illuminated manuscript sending paths of light through space. In fact she spoke this way about movement, extending imagery beyond the body into the architecture of the room, of the studio. We were invited to dance across the studio like flocks of birds tipping and tilting as we arced through our paths, or to consider that we were leaving light trails in the volume of the room and that by the time we had finished our dance we had left a kind of lit up architecture floating and resonating in time.

And these weren't just words, she was able to totally embody the tasks and imagery she offered us, firing our mirror neurons to new fresh experiences.

There was also the feeling in her dancing of having grown up in the open generous spaces of the high Canadian prairie, this understanding of big swathes of landscape and open sky were indelibly understood and carried by her. 

I felt like a door opened for me. She responded to my dancing with excitement, affirmation, and acceptance. I had that intense and wonderful sensation of really being seen, and amazingly she offered to help me design a path of further study in NYC after graduation.

I would continue to study with Peggy whenever I could, in workshops and intensives in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. And I did end up in NYC for a year where I was able to study with some of Peggy's incredible teachers and influences like Irene Dowd and Christine Wright, and to be immersed in the company of the dedicated extraordinary people dancing in the major companies there at the end of the 80s.

In preparing for further creation on unmoored I was reading Rumi and Hafiz as translated by Daniel Ladinsky. In his introduction he writes: "I was recently asked if I could explain the Rumi phenomenon in the Western world in just one line. I thought for a few moments, then replied, "Well maybe but could I quote Hafiz? The line was 'The wing comes alive in his presence/ I think that is it, something of the answer. The wing, the soul, the heart, comes alive in the presence of a real teacher...'"

 
Sarah in  Garland , 1997. Choreographed by Peggy. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Sarah in Garland, 1997. Choreographed by Peggy. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

 

3. In 2003/04, you and Peggy created The Disappearance of Right and Left. What inspired you to return to develop this follow-up piece now?

When Peggy and I worked on The Disappearance of Right and Left it involved unearthing many compelling stories from Peggy's life and looking at their relationships with each other. There is always a major process of elimination, looking for stories that somehow resonate together and create a greater whole. In The Disappearance, the stories chosen all seemed to illustrate times when perception was turned sideways and changed or opened.

 
 
Hornby Island

Hornby Island

Peggy on Hornby Island, 2017, working on  unmoored

Peggy on Hornby Island, 2017, working on unmoored

Often, when creating work it helps immensely to have some distance on past events and to know that it is safe to share the stories we are working with. We both knew that at the time of creating The Disappearance that Peggy was right in the middle of some excruciating life choices and fully immersed in taking care of Ahmed [Peggy's late husband]. We thought that one day we would return to this story, so central to her life, and around two years ago, it felt like the right time to begin.

It was an event when Ahmed would play for our classes when I was a student at STDT. He often sang while he played his array of instruments. I couldn't believe that one person could bring such a landscape of sound to the studio. So, I knew him before I met Peggy. And I was thrilled when these two people I loved got married to each other. At first, Peggy and Ahmed did some touring together and I would stay with Ahmed's daughter Shireefa, as a guardian; later on I would stay with Ahmed to help out when Peggy was away.

 
AHMED. Photo by v. tony hauser

AHMED. Photo by v. tony hauser

Sarah, Ahmed, and Tonto, 1994

Sarah, Ahmed, and Tonto, 1994

 

One thing that was a great pleasure about Peggy's teaching was her interaction with the musicians who played for class. She was deeply appreciative and aware of the choices they were making and her exercises were built around their musicality and sometimes involved unusual time signatures. There was a feeling of complete engagement both musically and physically. When Peggy made the solo, Garland, for me in 1997, it was an incredible experience to dance live to Arraymusic: four musicians playing violin, piano, vibraphone and tom toms, who shared the stage space with me. Over and again, Peggy has chosen to bring the musician right into the centre of her performances. Her solos transformed to an intimate duet.

4. Your career has been grounded in combining storytelling and dance, how does this inform your art-making process?

I think we are all in the middle of a mystery, and each of us experiences in our lives some kind of intricate predicament. In hearing other people's stories I often feel a deep sense of relief to know that I am not alone in feeling bewildered or overwhelmed by experiencing love and loss, which is inevitable in any life well lived. When I make work I am hoping that by arranging personal stories in a careful constellation, they become universal. A kind of poetic logic and rigour takes place, making sure that not more is said than needs to be said. I am always interested in specific details.

In the meantime I am creating movement patterns and loops that can speak emotional subtext or say what can't be spoken. These danced patterns also serve as a grounding task that keeps the performer in the moment and therefore safe to speak about personal emotional experiences.

To see unmoored, get your tickets to Map by Years, here.