Peggy Baker
who we are in the dark - program note

In 2015 I was commissioned to create a new solo with live music for the inaugural season of Fall for Dance North in Toronto. My solo career – an arc of 20 years during which I was strongly aligned with classical musicians – had culminated in 2010, so I took this invitation to return to the stage as an opportunity to move into new territory. I found my perfect accomplice for a foray into the colliding worlds of indie-rock and new music in the spectacular musician/composer Sarah Neufeld, violinist with the Juno and Grammy Award winning rock band, Arcade Fire. We titled our brief, blazing duet fractured black, and Sarah’s lyrics opened with the line, “who we are in the dark”. With a ferocious appetite to carry on together, we zeroed in on that opening line as the starting point for a new work. Our explorations contemplate the alluring darkness of night, intimacy, sexuality, the unconscious; the creeping darkness of uncertainty, malice, suspicion; the confounding darkness of bafflement, mystery, secrets, the unknown and the unknowable; the dreadful darkness of cruelty, suffering, and grief; the comforting darkness of condolence and contemplation.

For who we are in the dark I have worked from text as a source for movement invention. The words of Rainer Maria Rilke, Sylvia Plath, Jeanette Winterson, Jean Genet, Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver, Henri Michaux, as well as my friend, Toronto poet and translator, Roger Greenwald, and even the horror writer Dean Koontz, are deeply seeded in the choreography. The dancers’ collaboration in creating the movement language has been absolutely vital. An intense period of initial movement exploration was undertaken with Kate Holden, Sarah Fregeau and David Norsworthy, and their artistry permeates the choreography. Every dancer who has been in the studio during creation has left their imprint: Sahara Morimoto, Mairi Greig, Jarrett Siddall, Benjamin Kamino, and Naishi Wang, as well as – very early on – Ric Brown and Corrado Cerruto.

I’ve known the work of John Heward since the 1980s and the idea of incorporating a group of his paintings hit me like a thunderbolt. John works primarily with black paint on unstretched, repurposed rayon or canvas. Manhandled – torn and gouged with clamps – his works carry a physical history. This is the first time John’s images have been seen on a stage, and I take the trust he has put in me fully to heart. Vocalographer Fides Krucker and projection designer Jeremy Mimnagh have made crucial contributions to the aural and visual richness of this work, and lighting designer, Marc Parent – my primary collaborator since 1990 – has worked closely with me on every element of scenic design. The intimate compositional collaboration between Sarah Neufeld and her Arcade Fire bandmate, drummer Jeremy Gara, has been a source of intense inspiration for all of us. Every rehearsal on this project has been an occasion for the deep joy of creative work.

I am filled with gratitude to the splendid artists who have undertaken this adventure with me. John Heward’s death on November 6, 2018 shook us all, and we share the grief of his loss with his family, friends and colleagues. This work is dedicated to his memory.

who we are
in the dark
attached to the weight of it
afraid to let go of it
who we are
in the dark
attached to believing it
firmly becoming it
past the periphery
the cracks
the line
the light

Sarah Neufeld