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Peggy Baker at the AGO: An intimate encounter in a public place

Jacqueline Ethier in "Three Story House "

Bill Juillette

Interior with moving figures

  • Peggy Baker Dance projects
  • At the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto on Wednesday

When dance is performed in public spaces, there has to be a special hook, or why leave the theatre at all? Dancer and choreographer Peggy Baker understands this fact very well.

Interior with moving figures is her clever show at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Four different works (three choreographed by Baker, and one by Doug Varone) are performed simultaneously and continuously in four different galleries.

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Audience members can choose their order of viewing, and may stay as long or as little as they wish at each piece, in what is an intimate encounter with dance.

Each gallery has been chosen specifically as a match for each work. This perfect melding of live action and the visual environment informs both the dance and the paintings/sculpture.

I do have one cavil: Baker did not indicate the timing of each piece on the program, which would, in retrospect, have been very helpful. The entire concert is 70 minutes in length, and knowing how long an individual piece is would help organize one's journey through them all.

My recommendation is to start at the top and work down. The ground floor pieces are close together, so do the farthest afield first. Also, make sure you see the Walker Court work from the second floor gallery as well. The bird's-eye view is entirely different from being on the ground level.

Here is a mini-review of each work, from the ground up.

move (2009), Walker Court

Walker Court is a large, white open space. These 16 dancers (6 men and 10 women), dressed in black, become living sculpture that defines the room. Their slow, ritual movements are mirrored in Debashis Sinha's drone-like electronic score.

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The piece, inspired by Zen dry gardens and the figurative paintings of American artist George Tooker, features dancers who cut across all ages. The format is a canon or round, with one dancer beginning the sequence, followed by the others in a specific order, like a wave of motion.

The choreography is made up of pedestrian movement, such as walking, crawling, and rolling, but the climax is the formation of mixed-gender couples who each engage in a passionate embrace.

The poignant work signifies both the need for being alone and together.

Strand (1997), Richard Barry Fudger Memorial Gallery

One wall of this gallery is completely filled with paintings showing the eclectic taste of the collector. Many are portraits of women.

This solo was inspired by the journals of American writer May Sarton. Dancer Jessica Runge, confined to a small Persian rug, negotiates a series of exquisite gestures and facial expressions that convey a huge range of emotions. Ann Southam's solo piano score is both moody and reflective.

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The paintings are transformed into the woman's family and friends who have influenced her throughout her life, in good times and bad. Or is Runge the universal female archetype?

amour (2007/2010), Henry Moore Sculpture Gallery

This is the only piece on the program not choreographed by Baker. In this duet, New York's Doug Varone has focused on the need to connect to another human being.

Dancers Baker and Larry Hahn are tightly locked together. The minimalist movement involves subtle shifts of position, followed by frozen, controlled poses. Sinha's evocative, linear score highlights the stillness.

The surrounding abstract sculptures become reflections of the two bodies that form their own monolith in space.

Three story house (2009), Carol & Morton Rapp Gallery

This charming solo, performed by Jacqueline Ethier, involves three miniature houses of various sizes.

Baker's point of departure is French philosopher Gaston Bachelard's seminal book, The Poetics of Space, in which he links human psychology to how we relate to objects and define space. The music by Bjork is very human, embracing ritual chanting and passionate outcries.

The gallery contains large canvases of minimalist abstract art, and the little houses blend in completely with the modernist theme.

Baker's choreography is crisp and definite, integrating the houses within the movement of the dancer. It is almost a romantic duet between the objects and the human.

Interior with moving figures continues May 14, 15 and 18.

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