Performing Arts: Dance
  her body as words
March 13, 2022
Contemporary dance icon Peggy Baker’s new dance film, her body as words, is an exploration of what it means to be a woman today. Presented by Baryshnikov Arts Center, it is made up of nine solo dances, created in collaboration between the performers and Baker herself.

Filmed in portrait (as if to be viewed on a phone) by Jeremy Mimnagh, the dancers move in a dark room, where the lights transform air into smoke, rendering the space countless shades of grey marked by only the barest traces of color. The editing is excellent, almost seamlessly cutting in and out of proximity to the performers. Similarly, the dances are delivered with seriousness and poise, catching complicated shapes between swift articulations of the hands.

Alison Neuman’s solo builds a steady and driving momentum in the repetitions and subtle shifts of her arms and head, drawing attention to the smallest moments, where her eyes flicker upwards or her chest becomes a cradle for her fist. And when Anisha Tejpar grasps a small doll in her sharp hands, its loose arms splaying out as she twists and spins, the choreography is at its most delicate and intense.

As each dance finishes, the screen fades to black and poetry rolls up like credits. These are the scores for the dances, each reflecting its dancer and their relationship to womanhood. They are endlessly rich texts, addressing race, motherhood, ability, desire, age, sex, labor, and more, cascading into ever more entangled complexities of gender.

Baker cites Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex as the inspiration for this project, and that influence shines through in the deliberate investigation of female identity, but it is also clear that Baker is making this dance for today. The work does its best to extricate itself from the transphobic tendencies that some feminisms descended from Beauvoir still propagate.

The sound design by Debashis Sinha is outstanding, mixed from the ambient noises of the studio, dancer’s breath and footfalls paired with the sound of an ambulance passing on the street outside.

In Baker’s own solo the long sticks strapped to her arms scratch across the floor, their sounds spectralized to create a textured and often haunting experience. All in all, her body as words, works exceptionally well as a dance film. Its premise and form are precise and executed with great skill. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Peggy Baker, I was thoroughly wowed.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Noah Witke Mele

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