Poetry in Motion – The Return of Brigid Baker’s Big Beautiful and Wonderlawn

The choreographer and avant-garde godmother Brigid Baker stages a rare performance outside her Little Havana creative home, the 6th Street Dance Studio, this Thursday and Friday. Baker, a key (though not always sufficiently acknowledged as such) master dance teacher and artistic mentor in Miami, will present her pieces Wonderlawn, a reflection on the early AIDS crisis, and Big Beautiful at the On.Stage Black Box at Miami-Dade County Auditorium.

Big Wonder video from oui collective on Vimeo.

For an advance taste, here’s my review of Big Beautiful for the Herald from a year and a half ago. The performance was startling and magically transporting, in the way I always hope dance will be. One of the reasons that Baker’s work stands out is because she’s developed a distinctive movement language, a physical style, which Miami choreographers too seldom do. And her dances have depth. And, yes, wonder. Read this, then go see for yourself.

bigwonder credit ouicollective.com
Dancers for Brigid Baker’s concert “Big Wonder.” Photo courtesy ouicollective.com

A Surreal Dance Dream in Little Havana: Walking into Brigid Baker’s 6th Street Dance Studio is to enter a dreamlike Bohemian haven: the parade of plants up the steep stairs on the outside of the Little Havana building, with the sound of Cuban drummers echoing from down the block, a giant chandelier of plastic water bottles at the entry, the orchids and intriguing objects everywhere.

That homemade other-worldly feeling was amplified in a recent performance of “Big Beautiful,” a piece by Baker for her Whole Projects dance group, one of the many activities, including community dance classes and others for a small, dedicated cadre of serious dancers that has made 6th Street Dance Studio into a rare Miami artistic refuge.

dancer liony garcia in brigid baker's big beautiful. photo courtesy ouicollective.com.
Dancer Liony Garcia in Brigid Baker’s “Big Beautiful.” Photo courtesy ouicollective.com.

“For a time, I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free,” Baker, a Miamian who is also a veteran of the New York avant-garde, said during her introduction, quoting poet Wendell Berry. An homage to the natural world and to the transformative power of dedication and imagination, “Big Beautiful” was a lovely, hypnotic experience.

Big Wonder video from oui collective on Vimeo.

The setting was intimate and strange. The ceiling was hung with bright-colored sweaters and mandalas, dreamcatchers, and the like, while the audience, seated on a miscellaneous array of sofas, chairs and bolsters, is enclosed in the studio with the performers. The four wonderful dancers – Meredith Barton, Liony Garcia, Nadina Liberatore, and Amy San Pedro – wore loose, flowing smocks over big colorful skirts puffed out with crinolines; they looked like androgynous folk dolls, eccentric accolytes.

In the first section, the dancers move in flowing, repetitive patterns to slow, serene music by Steve Hillier. There’s a sense of ritual, of devotional repetition, which is increased by the dancers’ easy, intimate unison, which speaks to their hours of practice together.

The central segment is simply a film projected on the back wall, a montage skillfully edited by Baker to a dramatically accelerating Tchaikovsky piano concerto. Images of nature: bees on a flower, a bird diving into water, a caterpillar inching up a stem, an undulating jellyfish; alternate with 30’s and 40’s era footage of people applauding wildly. It’s comical – hooray for the blooming flower! – but also effectively sweeps us up into a sense of wonder for the natural world.

performer in brigid baker's big beautiful. photo by christina rivera
Performer in Brigid Baker’s “Big Beautiful.” Photo by Christina Rivera

When the dancers returned, they amplified that sense of urgency, matched by melodically percussive, minimalist music by Gavin Bryars. At first they moved with sweeping, breezy grace, arms and legs swinging freely, in patterns that had a whiff of folk dance. But as they increased in speed and intensity, whirling and leaping, heads and hands shaking in odd, pleading gestures, they gave a sense of desperation, of order spinning out of control, nature’s patterns coming apart. Until, like a dissipating storm, or the inevitable end of a furious ritual, they slowed to a stop.

 

 

 

Brigid Baker’s Big Wonder is at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the On.Stage Black Box at Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami, 305-547-5414. Tickets $23 at miamidadecountyauditorium.org.

 

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