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Tonight: Pianist John Farah savours the art of dance collaboration in Peggy Baker's Stereophonic

By John Terauds on February 27, 2013

Peggy Baker Dance Projects dancers at teh Richard bradshaw Amphitheatre (Canadian Opera Company photo).
Peggy Baker Dance Projects performers at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre (Canadian Opera Company photo).

Tonight marks the first of five performances of Stereophonic, a new show by Peggy Baker Dance Projects at the Betty Oliphant Theatre.

Baker and five of her dancers — Sarah Fregeau, Benjamin Kamino, Sean Ling, Sahara Marimoto and Andrea Nann — are being accompanied by Toronto pianist, composer and electronic guru John Kameel Farah.

I thought this would be a great excuse to ask Farah about the art of accompanying dancers instead of a singer, or performing together with a chamber ensemble.

“I don’t feel like I’m accompanying,” is the first thing Farah says. “I feel like I’m interacting with [the dancers], as if I was performing or improvising with another musician. I think that’s something Peggy wants and it’s something the three dancers I’m working with enjoy, and I enjoy.”

The pianist describes Baker as an overseer, like a conductor, “but the various parts of the orchestra can talk to each other and figure things out. There are a lot of ‘sub’ things going on, and alterations we can make,” he explains.

The little alterations, which are different with each performance of even the most tightly timed and choreographed dance, end up setting off a chain reaction of changes.

Most of rehearsal time is spent searching rather than repeating. Says Farah: “It’s not just about how does the phrase go, but how does it go today. How does it go right now? There’s a natural way for it to go every time, so it’s about how to you keep changing, doing little micro experiments with each phrase.”

The magnitude of these experiments depends entirely on the character of each piece — one of which is improvised by the pianist.

The choreography is fully set and Farah knows the structure of the piece. “It’s almost like there are three movements contained in this 10-minute piece, with silence in between the movements.” He describes how he uses those silences to, “pivot and change my textures or create bridges between musical ideas.”

Although Marimoto goes through the same range of moves, she will respond differently to what Farah does at the piano. “The intensity or the character of the movements and gestures she is making almost look like a different dance, even though it’s the same score,” Farah explains.

“You can see the energy of what I’m doing flowing through her. It’s an interesting set of dynamics there,” he adds.

Says Farah, “I feel like I’m part of the creative process.”

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For more details on Stereophonic, which runs to March 3, click here.

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To show off Farah’s versatility, here he is performing his work Expanse, at the Church of the Holy Cross in Berlin:

John Terauds

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