Review: Peggy Baker Dance Projects’ “Locus Plot”

Peggy Baker Dance Projects'

Peggy Baker Dance Projects’ “Locus Plot”. Picture by Makoto Hirata

Peggy Baker, the acclaimed Canadian choreographer, is constantly inspired by life and the infinite amount of subjects it contains. Her works are inspired by music, literature, photography and visual arts among other subjects. The latest fascination and source of inspiration for her newest work is math. Baker was mesmerized by the beautiful pictorial representations of mathematical equations she discovered on the Internet. This was the beginning of her newest creation “Locus Plot”, her first full-length ensemble work in a 40-year long fruitful career

During the pre-show talk Baker explained, that although inspired by mathematics, “Locus Plot” is not about math; it is about human experience in an environment constrained by physical laws. Laws that can make this experience feel wacky, wild and unexpected.

Using math as a subject of dance choreography is a daring task. The recreation of aesthetically fascinating symbols, plots and graphs through movement and distribution of bodies in space, runs the risk of being mechanical, superficial, cold or purposeless, but this is not the case with Baker’s work. Sean Liang, one of the dancers in Peggy Baker’s Dance Company explains it best. He states: “She can create works that have strong emotional feeling without being caught up in sentiment. That the physicality and the relationship between the people create those emotions rather than painting something on. She’s a very honest choreographer”.

Baker’s outstanding collaborators are responsible, to a large extent, for the brilliance of “Locus Plot”. Mathematician and playwright John Mighton, was able to translate the beautiful mathematical symbols that Baker found online into a comprehensive reality that could serve as intellectual nourishment for her work.

Baker’s intelligent choreography is infinitely enriched by Fides Krucker’s “vocalography”. As Baker admits, incorporating vocal work to the choreography adds a more human level to the objective and indifferent premises in mathematics. The vocal component of the piece helped to expose a second layer to the work, a sort of “double life bubbling underneath” the set of choreographic movements.

John Kameel Farah’s captivating musical score is another crucial component of “Locus Plot”, without which there would be no magic. Farah, who started composing after the vocal components of the piece had already been set, was able not only to embrace these, but also to highlight them with his composition.

Dancers: Ric Brown, Sarah Fregeau, Kate Holden, Sean Ling and Sahara Morimoto were spot-on in their execution of Baker’s work. Throughout the entire choreography the dancers seemed to be restricted by outside forces out of their control. There was a sense of determinism that, although limiting, did not feel claustrophobic. The work is an optimistic take on the freedom we still have within the constrains of our human conditions, subject to natural laws of physics. Baker used an illustrative analogy in her pre-show discussion. She talked about the hub of a bicycle wheel and what would happen, if it were shifted away from the center of the wheel. The shift would cause a radically different experience of riding a bike, one much more dangerous and unexpected. In the same fashion, Baker seems to try and rearrange the variables of her “plot”, to invert the coordinates and change the rules. She places her pons-dancers in a system of inverted logic, one in which they are forced to move in specific ways. I had the feeling that the dancers were moving even in spite of themselves. The deeply penetrating, strange noises they emitted: howls, growls and high pitched-screams, were their only means of externalizing unconstrained emotions.

The last minutes of the show break away from the otherwise steady “rhythm” of the work. Kate Holden, wearing a white dress, performs an exquisite solo. She is shortly freed from the imposed parameters only to end up convulsing dramatically. She reminded me of a kitten trying to expel a ball of fur that it has just licked. The other four dancers clustered in the upstage, left corner moved together, their actions sometimes resembling arm movements in swimming, as if they were trying to float up against the suffocating surface of the dark stage. Then they were all engulfed in darkness.

Math describes physics, dance is physics (and much more) and thus math can describe dance. Baker reverts this logic in her work, she used dance to describe math, but in doing so, she revels much more then just the descriptive power of dance. “Locus Plot” is emotive without trying to be so, it is intelligent and like math, it is beautiful in the simplicity of its solutions.