Coming to Whitehorse: a collaboration between members of Arcade Fire and the Peggy Baker Dance Project
Feb 21 2019
By Amy Kenny
Peggy Baker’s new project, who we are in the dark, may resonate differently during a Yukon winter than it does elsewhere in Canada. The light will finally be coming back
to the territory on March 13, when Baker, a modern dancer, choreographer and member of the Order of Canada, brings her production to the Yukon Arts Centre.
“It’s so exciting to share this with people who are so aware of days that get longer and shorter,” said Baker, speaking over the phone from her office in Toronto, two days before the production’s world premiere.
“People who live in the North have a whole other relationship to darkness.There’s a profound shift at different times of year and that invites different aspects of one’s life to be lived out more fully at different times of the year … we don’t put aside everything wonderful in the winter.”
Who we are in the dark is a contemporary dance piece with original compositions arranged and performed live by Sarah Neufeld and Jeremy Gara, members of Grammy and
Juno-winning band, Arcade Fire. The hour-long performance plays out against a backdrop crafted by additional artists working with pigment, projection and light.
The idea for the ambitious piece came out of an earlier collaboration between Baker and Neufeld.
In 2015, Baker choreographed and danced a work called fractured black. She asked Neufeld to perform one of her own existing compositions, but to write an original prologue
for the performance. When Neufeld responded with lyrics, the first line was who we are in the dark.
“I just thought, what a provocative line,” said Baker. “What beautiful language. It’s just so rich with connotation. There’s so many connections and subtleties.”
Among them were themes and ideas of chaos and creation, of light and dark ideas coming from the subconscious, of intimacy and sexuality.
Baker knew immediately that she wanted to work on a larger piece with Neufeld. When she approached Neufeld about it, the feeling was mutual.
In addition to her work with Arcade Fire, Neufeld had been doing solo composition. She had also scored dance with another band she founded, Bell Orchestre. Baker’s suggestion, of original composition for a full performance, was something Neufeld had wanted to try.
Baker chose seven dancers and Gara joined the project to fill out the ensemble.
Though both Gara and Neufeld have collaborated with artists working in other mediums, they said there was something special about who we are in the dark. Over the course
of 2018, a lot of the work was done in separate corners of the country, with everyone—musicians, dancers, choreographer—coming together seasonally, to share space and work collaboratively for a week at a time.
“Peggy is really confident with expressing how she’s feeling about things and what she’s looking for and that makes it kind of easy,” said Gara of the process. “Collaboration, at least for (myself and Neufeld), works well when people are pretty comfortable communicating what they want.”
“Peggy has a really clear vision,” Neufeld agreed. “At the same time, she’s really open to other people’s vision, so there’s a balance. There’s a clear leader all the time, and it’s Peggy, so it’s been a great context to work in, where we can push and extend beyond what we imagined doing, but someone is making decisions. Not around the music, but for the music.”
Live music is a rare treat for the dancers, said Kate Holden, who has worked with Baker a number of times since 2001 and is thrilled to perform in who we are in the dark.
When you’re dancing to something pre-recorded, Holden said, you come to expect the same thing every night. When you have live music however, there are subtle differences from night to night. The music shifts. It has its own breath and its own movement. As a dancer, you have to listen closely.
“Emotionally, that can stir up things, when something is that alive and I think the audience will feel that and feel that very real presence.”
“When people are playing in real time, it’s very, very different,” she said. “Their presence as people, you can hear that on a recording, but it’s subtle, on a certain level, when you actually witness the physicality of a person playing. It’s like seeing dance live.”
Who we are in the dark takes place at 7 p.m. on March 13 on the Yukon Arts Centre mainstage. Baker will give a pre-show talk and the performance is one hour long.
Tickets are $35 ($25 for youth under 18) and are available at the box office or at www.yukontickets.com.
Amy Kenny is a Yukon-based writer. Her journalism has been published by Up Here, Walrus, Vice, Canadian Geographic, National Geographic Book Publishing, Yukon News and the Hamilton Spectator. Her fiction, poetry, non-fiction and reviews have appeared in Hazlitt, Room, The Antigonish Review, Prism and The Humber Literary Review. She has also written web and promotional content for numerous travel, tourism, health, wildlife and arts organizations.