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This weekend, Live Art Dance in Halifax closes out its 2013-2014 season with three works, including Nutshell from Halifax’s own Rhonda Baker. Recently we spoke with her about what audiences can expect.

When and why did you first become interested in dance?
RB: I began taking dance lessons when I was nine; a friend of mine was in a combination class at Maritime Dance Academy (Ballet, Jazz, Tap), and I thought I would try it out too. After discovering Modern dance, I became very serious about pursuing it more intensively. What I enjoyed about dance was the physicality, self expression, and interpretive qualities within the structure of any given movement phrase. I really attribute my growing interest in dance to having passionate teachers throughout my training.

Are they the same reasons that you continue to be involved today?
RB: My reasons for continuing with dance as a profession are not the same as when I began, but the seed remains. In the way that your ideal of love can evolve as it is lived with someone else, it is the same for me with dance - it requires an unlimited amount of devotion, attention, and hard work. The capacity for human experience, empathy, and expressivity continues to grow through this medium. My interests remain in the cultivation of imagination; it is a major key to how I experience life and work in a fulfilling way.

What are the challenges of the vocation?
RB: The work can take a toll on the physical state of your body, and so there is an incentive to stay healthy. I work very hard to prevent injuries, and when they do occur, tend to them in a very timely manner. There are no ‘sick days’ in our field.

“In the way that your ideal of love can evolve as it is lived with someone else, it is the same for me with dance - it requires an unlimited amount of devotion, attention, and hard work.”

What are the rewards?
RB: Of course the performance aspect is the main draw of this profession, and having the opportunity to travel and share our work with communities in other provinces, or even other countries is very rewarding.

Is your creative process more 'inspirational' or 'perspirational'?
RB: I am continually inspired by the people I work with, and find there is a healthy mix of inspiration and perspiration in the studio! During my time spent with both choreographers for this show, (Sara Coffin and Sharon Moore) the perceptions I once had of my own physical limits have shifted; I’ve been inspired by their generosity, and find I am able to perform at ever higher levels through our work together in the studio.

How has your work evolved over the years?
RB: I am mainly hired as an artist for contract based dance projects; currently working for Mocean Dance and Coleman Lemieux and Compagnie. I am also pursuing my choreographic interests on the side with various independent artists in Halifax and Toronto. Most of the dance contracts I work on are highly engaging in the collaborative sense, and this often gives me more of a license to offer my personality and aesthetic to the work.

“During my time spent with both choreographers for this show…the perceptions I once had of my own physical limits have shifted; I’ve been inspired by their generosity, and find I am able to perform at ever higher levels through our work together in the studio.”

What have been some highlights?
RB: Working on Canvas 5 x 5 with Tedd Robinson (my first contract with Mocean Dance), was one of those collaborations where I found myself dropped into the centre of the unknown. I spent a lot of time trying to master the temperaments of the canvas in order to create sculptural pieces or have it glide in just the right way. There are a lot of striking images within Canvas 5 x 5—it’s easily one of my favourite dances to perform and continues to be a crowd favourite whenever we tour it. Another highlight was traveling to Israel in the summer of 2012 to study the Gaga Movement Language directly from its creator, Ohad Naharin. It was a very enriching time in my career, and was the first time I had travelled such a far distance from home. Training in this dance method really taught me to not take myself so seriously, to leave room for play while in modes of discovery, and to love my sweat, it gets really hot there in the summer!

What inspired Nutshell?
RB: Nutshell was created as I was graduating from The School of Toronto Dance Theatre in 2009. The solo was choreographed by Sharon Moore; a highly regarded artist working in dance and theatre who handpicked me from a class of nineteen graduates to work with on a new creation. The work is deeply rooted in technical and emotional content. In Sharon Moore’s own words: “Each moment is an effort to get it right or not. It’s an open diary of sensation… determined in the end to achieve a little revenge.”

What can audiences expect to experience this weekend?
RB: The audience can look forward to experiencing a wide range of dance forms that vary in qualities from internal and meditative, to highly virtuosic and grounded. There are various depths you can go to when expressing a story or idea through dance, but ultimately I think that rich and expressive movement remains at the core of this weekend’s performance. There is something for everyone to enjoy in this show!

What has the response been like so far to the production?
RB: The response has been very positive. There’s a lot of excitement building for this particular performance, as it’s comprised of all local talent, and is the official season closer for Live Art Dance Productions’ 31st season.

“Each moment is an effort to get it right or not. It’s an open diary of sensation… determined in the end to achieve a little revenge.”

What are your thoughts on the current state of dance in Canada?
RB: Firstly, I am very grateful to be a part of the Canadian dance scene, especially on the eastern coast, as I feel it has a cool niche that continues to grow and develop into a hub for innovative dance work. There is support available for artists at the provincial and federal level through government funding bodies, and this contributes greatly to many projects to help artists see their work through to fruition.

What can we be doing better?
RB: In Halifax, specifically, I think we need to heighten the profile of dance and our professional artists. I do think we can meet half way with promoters and news distributors to create a better relationship between us and our audience, but discussion is key and so is information.

What's next on your creative agenda?
RB: I’ll be gearing up for a performance with a collective of dancers in Toronto, while also pursing some of my own choreographic interests with a colleague of mine. Shortly thereafter I’ll be back to work in Halifax with Mocean Dance. My other plans include getting some professional development into the schedule.

April 24-26, 8pm
Sir James Dunn Theatre, Halifax

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