Peggy Baker created Peggy Baker Dance Projects more than 30 years ago as a vehicle for her solo work. This fall, the company closes by offering Toronto audiences three brand new presentations: Beautiful Renegades, Choreographic Gems and PRESENCE. None of these projects feature her work as a performer or choreographer, foreshadowing her impending new role within Toronto dance communities.
With these final presentations, Baker pays homage to her theatre roots and makes space for emerging talent, one of the reasons she is folding her company despite continued success.
Beautiful Renegades is a play about dance, set in the anti-establishment political times of the 1970s. Written by Michael Ross Albert, a Toronto-based playwright, the show is inspired by Baker’s desire to call up some of the provocative and groundbreaking work she witnessed in the 1970s when she first came to Toronto to study at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. As the choreographic director of the piece, she sought out the dance makers whose work made a profound impact on her during that time: Elizabeth Chitty, Margaret Dragu, Lily Eng, Louise Garfield, Johanna Householder and Jennifer Mascall.
Working from photos, video footage and notes, she “directed the resurrections” alongside the original choreographers of these largely improvisation-based pieces. Together, they distilled evening-long presentations into small bites of set choreography that could be transplanted into the play, giving both theatregoers and dance-lovers a rich behind-the-scenes look at Toronto’s emerging contemporary dance milieu. Baker says it examines “how we work together, how we build community: acts of generosity, moments of jealousy and hard work in spaces and places…it’s sad, it’s exalted, it’s serious, it’s tragic.” It will most certainly have her trademark authenticity and, she senses, perhaps a bit of controversy as the curtain lifts on the inner workings of the dance world.
The play is directed by Eda Holmes (artistic director of Montreal’s Centaur Theatre, former associate director at the Shaw Festival, and soloist with the Frankfurt Ballet from 1988-1992); designed by the Siminovitch award-winning artist Gillian Gallow with Debashis Sinha (sound) and Jeff Pybus (lighting, video); and features outstanding performers Sarah Fregeau, David Norsworthy, Erika Prevost, Jarrett Siddall, Shauna Thompson and Anne van Leeuwen.
The fact that Peggy Baker Dance Projects is offering audiences a farewell play is poignant; the artform to which Baker was originally drawn was theatre. She was even accepted into the University of Alberta’s acting program before she discovered dance through Patricia Beatty, Toronto Dance Theatre’s co-founder. “If I hadn’t met Patricia Beatty, I wouldn’t have been a dancer,” she says.
In the lead-up to the play’s premiere at the Theatre Centre on Sept. 22, Choreographic Gems, nine short films shot by William Yong, are being released through the company’s website. These are the distilled miniatures made for the play, captured for their shimmering originality and structure.
PRESENCE is a site-specific series that takes place over two weeks in Lisgar Park in the west end of Toronto. Curated by Phylicia Browne-Charles, Aria Evans, Tia Ashley Kushniruk and David Norsworthy, each week features the work of two next-generation choreographers. Baker describes the curatorial team as “prime movers in the community who are asking big questions and making super relevant work,” and they have chosen Renee Smith, Kiera Breaugh, Eilish Shin-Culhane and Pulga Muchochoma to make new outdoor works.
Baker is excited to take in their work and see their viewpoint here in 2022, both on the art form of dance and who we are as people.
In the announcement of her company’s wind-up, Baker wrote: “At this pivotal moment, I believe that the most significant action I can take is to free up space and resources.”
You can catch these pieces, a sort of love letter to Toronto, by clicking on the links below.
Week 1: Sept. 20 to 24 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 25 at 3:30 p.m. – Kiera Breaugh and Renee Smith
Week 2: Sept. 27 to Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 2 at 3:30 p.m. – Eilish Shin-Culhane and Pulga Muchochoma
Sept. 20 to Oct. 2
Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m.
Sunday matinee at 4 p.m.
Franco Boni Theatre
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