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Flash Review 2, 2-27: Baker's Choice
Vintage Gems and a New Dud on White Oak Alum

By Nancy Dalva
Copyright 2003 Nancy Dalva

NEW YORK -- Peggy Baker came from Toronto to New York this past weekend on a three-dance program that was part of Danspace Project's Global Exchange program, but the new dance she brought with her to St. Mark's Church doesn't do anything for international relations. "The Transparent Recital" is a pretentious dud. It involves Shauna Rolston, a celebrated (as the program tells us) and glamorous velvet-jumpsuit-clad cellist; a patched together score that is mostly bits of J.S. Bach and John Oswald, the Canadian composer who arranged it; scattered chairs and music stands, including two annoying mini-chairs; a mysterious suitcase that turns out to be an old fashioned wind-up Victrola that does nothing but go chik-chik-chik as the needle hits a record label; and an oxblood velvet turtleneck calf-length sheath with a corset and an elaborate tulle bustle shot with gold glitter. Baker was wearing this unfortunate outfit, which would have been confining had the sporadic, twitchy movement by choreographer Ted Robinson been even faintly expansive.

Although there was a tiny bit of cloying by-play between musician and dancer that suggested some sort of interaction, most of this rather long piece -- riff, riff, riff-riff --seemed utterly pointless. Further, as is so often the case with work dependant on pre-set props, it had a built in " doom quotient." From the get- go, you just knew that all the chairs would have to be sat in before it was over. Worse, the work made Baker look dry, and effortful, negating her graceful arms and shoulders, noble, open back, and lovely, legible face. (Imagine Rose from Masterpiece Theater's "Upstairs Downstairs," dancing barefoot.)

Baker is already well known already to many New Yorkers from her decade dancing for Lar Lubovitch, and for her stint with the White Oak Dance Project during it's all Mark Morris inaugural season. She looked wonderful in those dances, and seeing her now, you can detect certain qualities that typified Baryshnikov's solo work. Indeed, her opener, Tere O'Connor's 1991 "Person Project," recalled Baryshnikov's old classical ballet number "Vestris," crossed with "The Three Faces of Eve." The piece is pretty much an open invitation for a performer to run amuck, and Baker did so with tasteful zest, veering from coquettish to psychotic to grief-stricken to elated and back again in a blink. ( Each emotional state -- you saw each more than once -- had its own characteristic movement motif, of sorts.) If I had had to take a guess as the dance was transpiring, I'd have said Baker was supposed to be tipsy party-goer, acting out on the lawn while a party went on somewhere behind her. It was no surprise when at the end a door opened, and we could hear the sounds of glasses clinking, and music, and conversation. The rest transpired in silence. As a demonstration of technical acting mastery, it was effective.

As a demonstration of emotional mastery, we had Doug Varone's 1988 "Home," a work for two dancers and two chairs, to Dick Connette's Aaron Copelandish string quartet score, played live. (This alone was a singular pleasure -- to sit in the church listening to a string quartet. The acoustics are warm, intimate -- you feel as if you are inside a sounding box.) Baker's partner was Larry Hahn, who has danced with Varone since 1988. A tough-looking, Gene Hackmanesque personage with unsettling pale blue eyes, Hahn has a rare mix of menace and tenderness that serves him well, and an economy of gesture and cleanness of execution -- an arm grab, a hug, a leg cross -- that makes Varone's choreography look like genius. Playing against him, Baker was remote, difficult, desirable, and clear, clear, clear. She really is a marvelous dancer, still, at 50, if not the best judge of material. (Then again, what's a dancer to do, once a work is commissioned, paid for, and scheduled? It's a problem.) She's got the right stuff, if not the right vehicles.Canada's lucky to have her.

Nancy Dalva is the senior writer for 2wice, and a regular contributor to the Dance Insider. To read her previous reviews, just enter "Dalva" in the search engine window on our Home Page.

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