unmoored: Peggy Baker at the Citadel


Text and performance by Peggy Baker

Choreography and direction by Sarah Chase

Peggy Baker Dance Projects at The Citadel, Toronto

May 1-4, 2019

Reviewed by Ted Fox & Beverley Daurio

Peggy Baker’s performance of unmoored, directed by Sarah Chase, features Baker in a solo one-act play, sharing her memories of her 20-year marriage to the musician, activist and composer Ahmed Hassan, who died of primary progressive MS.

The set is simple: at the front and slightly to the left, there are a mic stand and a mic; also slightly on the left, are two chairs placed side by side, facing us; and to the back right, there is a table holding a couple of small objects that we can’t quite identify, and two sheafs of paper. These different parts of the stage are physical foci for different sections of the piece, and for different parts of the text. Baker moves between these focal points, and repeatedly returns to the chairs, sitting erect in one of them. We become conscious of the invisible presence of Ahmed, whose chair we imagine the empty one is, and who resides in her state of mind.

Baker holds herself erect, regal and proud like a tree that has survived all weathers. Her arms are like branches. Her hands the leaves. Her rings have recorded the cycles of her life. Her voice is steady and warm.

A segment of a wall behind her, and the table, are lit only occasionally throughout, as if indicating her feelings of loss and his absence cutting her off from him. Every bit of lighting, every gesture, every movement, is spare and powerful.

The text of unmoored was written by Baker, and she speaks some sections from memory, and reads most of it from white sheets of paper that have been placed around the set—on a table, on a chair—that Baker reaches for and holds with her hands like loved relics.

Beginning with images of an unmoored boat floating empty in moonlit waters, the work consists mainly of stories of the events of Ahmed’s physical failing and death, and how he, and she, travelled through this very difficult terrain.

Throughout the show, through the saddest, most painful and difficult sections as well as through delight, Baker’s voice and face are full of love and joy. The tension between that pleasure—her pleasure in Ahmed’s music, his love of life, his conversation, his physical presence—and his sufferings with severe MS, forms a mystery. Near the beginning of the piece, Baker explains that, describing Ahmed to a friend who had not yet met him, it never crossed her mind to mention his illness. She did not think of her husband as in any way defined by his disability, in spite of his eventually profound physical limitations. It is this beautiful transcendence in Ahmed’s spirit and presence that Baker evokes as that mystery’s answer. As audience, we feel and are drenched in that love and its manifestations. Baker’s text is strong and spare, like her voice—as she tells story after story about Ahmed’s courage and pleasure in life—and it is a powerful teacher. It would be hard to leave the theatre less awed by the possibilities of joy in life.

As Baker recovers from her grief and celebrates Ahmed’s life, her elegiac journey of healing embeds itself in ours. Her soul is open and encourages joy and openness in us.

During the short sections with movement, when Baker does dance, her gestures are very evocative. Arms and hands become waves crashing on a shore. Pulling a white sheet off his wasted body. Embracing his lifeless body.

Unmoored ends with Baker placing the two chairs so they face away from each other. Suggesting a new beginning.