Review: Map By Years (Peggy Baker Dance Projects)

Photo of Jessica Runge in Her HeartPeggy Baker presents a unique evening of dance at Toronto’s Theatre Centre

Peggy Baker has been one the major figures in Canadian modern dance for many years, but I had never see her work. So I was excited by the opportunity to see Peggy Baker Dance Projects’ Map By Years, currently being performed at The Theatre Centre. This evening of solo performances features four very different works that all showcase strong dancers and that share a common thread of longing and mysticism.

The three pieces before the intermission were choreographed by Baker herself. Her Heart is danced by Jessica Runge to music by Brahms, which is played live on stage by pianist Cheryl Duvall. The movement is rhythmic and balletic with pointed feet, extended arms, and reaching jumps along the diagonal. It feels soft and full of yearning.

Krishna’s Mouth also features live music. Cellist Anne Bourne plays and vocalizes an otherworldly score by Karen Tanaka. Dancer Andrea Nann repeats a story about Lord Krishna as a baby, out loud, over and over, while moving across the stage with flat feet and upturned palms. Her movements are angular and stabbing mixed with slow stretching, swaying, and collapsing. Sometimes she mimes the movements of Lord Krishna, but I wasn’t really sure if she was supposed to represent him or not.

Portal was danced by Kate Holden and has no music. She dances within rectangles of light on an otherwise black stage. Then the light goes out, and she reappears within another rectangle elsewhere. The movement is violent and fractured with arms swinging rapidly and hair flying. She seems scared and in pain.

The final piece of the evening, unmoored, was the highlight. It was choreographed for Peggy Baker by Sarah Chase and is not dance in the traditional sense. Chase describes her genre as “dancestories”. She had Baker write stories from her life and then worked with her to combine both text and movement. In unmoored, Baker tells of her marriage to musician Ahmed Hassan, who suffered from multiple sclerosis and died in 2011 at the age of 55.

Baker’s reading of her own writing is punctuated by short bursts of mainly arm movements and gestures. Her story is raw and painful and full of love as she describes Ahmed’s slow decline. The detailed recounting of his final days is both excruciating and incredibly moving. Most of the audience was weeping silently along with her. Baker is commanding presence on stage. She is strong and graceful in even the smallest movements. I couldn’t look away.

I loved being so close to the dancers in The Theatre Centre’s relatively small space. You become aware of the smallest gestures and facial expressions. You can hear the sound of the dancers’ breathing, which almost becomes part of the score. I also really liked the live music in the first two pieces. Live music is an expensive luxury, but I felt it added an immediacy and richness to the performances.

All in all, I thought Map by Years was an enjoyable evening of contemporary dance. I’m glad I got to see Baker’s choreography and to see her perform herself. If you like dance, I’d definitely recommend it. Several performances are already sold out, so get your tickets soon.


  • Map by Years is being performed at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) until February 25, 2018.
  • Performances are Wednesday – Saturday at 8pm, matinees Saturday and Sunday at 3pm
  • Tickets are $30/ $22 for students/seniors/arts workers and can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 416-538-0988.
  • Saturday, February 24 at 3pm is pay what you can. Cash only at the door. Box office opens 2 hours before the performance.
  • There are ASL interpreted pre-show chat and performances on Thursday, Feb 22 at 8pm and Saturday, Feb 24 at 3pm.
  • All performances are equipped with a select number of Tactile Audio Display (TAD) chairs for Deaf or hard-of-hearing patrons, equipped with an 8-channel system to experience the vibrations of the sound through the specialized seat cushions. You can book these directly through the box office.

Photo of Jessica Runge by John Lauener. Image provided courtesy of Art of Time Ensemble, with pianist Andrew Burashko.