An acclaimed and award-winning dancer hopes to encourage conversations about mortality and disability in her latest production to be shown in Nanaimo.
Peggy Baker believes her spoken word and movement piece, Unmoored, which was inspired by the journey of caring for her late husband, will be appreciated by those who are caregivers or by those who dread losing someone.
“We are all going to be caregivers, or will be cared for, at some point in our lives,” she said. “I mean, certainly as children we were cared for by whomever was bringing us up. And this reversal of roles happens probably several times in a lifetime.”
The conversation of caregiving, she said, is rarely discussed outside of parenting, though many people either receive or provide care for someone they love. Baker hopes Unmoored offers some relief from that unspoken tension.
Although it confronts a weighty topic, she said her performance shifts seamlessly between light and dark, from funny, beautiful memories to more sober ones in a intricate balancing act.
“We must not be afraid to speak about the most important things in our lives through art,” said Baker. “If we’re afraid to speak about love and death, loss and disability, in art – then where in heaven’s name are we going to find a place to unpack these huge experiences?”
In caring for her late husband, Baker feels privilege she was able to accompany him on the journey as it changed her world perspective.
“I can say, with full honesty, that I am no longer afraid of my own death,” she said.
Throughout her accomplished and lengthy career, Baker said she couldn’t avoid reflecting on mortality.
“First of all, I was born in 1952. That means I turn 70 this year. I’ve been performing for a very long time, and once you move through middle age and you begin moving towards old age, you start reflecting on things in your life very differently,” she said, and added that mortality and awareness of it plays a significant role in how people live their lives.
The story of Unmoored was originally broached to Baker by the director and choreographer, Sarah Chase, when they worked on a different performance piece in 2004.
At the time, Baker was not ready to delve into her experience as she was “really in the thick” of caregiving. However, six years after her husband’s death in 2011, she began the writing process during a five-week writing residency in Italy.
In 2018, the year Unmoored premiered, it was nominated for a Dora Award in Outstanding Choreography and Outstanding Lighting Design. In the same same year, Baker won a Dora Award for Outstanding Performance. It was intended to tour in 2020 before being delayed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“What I discovered, as I’ve performed it approximately 12 or 15 times now, is that people really want to have conversations afterwards,” Baker said. “And I found I could relate to what they were saying – that it offered me a chance to understand what I experienced was also beautiful and not only a tragedy.”
Unmoored will show at Vancouver Island University’s Malaspina Theatre on Sunday, May 29, with curtains raised at 7:30 p.m.