Dark Habits: Matthew Baker Q&A with Kristina Hanna

SPOTLIGHT ON MATT BAKER: Our Quiet Queen

By Kristina Hanna

We sometimes say of someone, “He’s a man of contradiction.”  And what we mean, really, is that his personality is full of more conflict than we’d care to handle.

But when it comes to Matt Baker, contradiction refers only to one of the most delightful plays between poles that I’ve ever seen in a performer. A man of nuance, he is able to sweep back and forth between a straight faced and sleek physical prowess to the over the top, yet perfectly timed humor of a developed comedian that always gets him laughs when we take our KCO show on the road. This interplay holds true off stage too.  Just ask him to do his Sean Connery for you and you’ll agree that he’s one of the funniest people you’ve ever met. But spend some quiet time with him (a five hour plane ride to California for example) and his soft spoken, thoughtful reflections will move you just as deeply as his dancing does. This week he and I sat down together at Joyce Soho before one of our final rehearsals to talk about the highs and lows (and everything between) of the creative process. What I can tell you…it was no drag!  Here are some of the highlights:

K: How are you feeling this close to the show with where we are in the process?

M: It’s starting to get really exciting.  I always like this part in the process where things are starting to come together. We’ve spent so much time with the piece; a lot of the material is pretty old.  But now, the feel of the piece is starting to come out and we’re becoming more attached to it in different ways.

K: Is a specific narrative starting to come through for you?

M: Not a specific narrative in terms of a beginning to end arc, but definitely a narrative of my experience within the piece, in forming different relationships throughout the work.  They’re becoming clearer and it’s informing my approach to different sections.  Especially doing a piece where you’re on stage for 60 minutes, it’s helpful to have that real sense of relationship that you can experience throughout the entirety of the work. It gives you a sense of both past and future.

K: It’s fun now, having that structure, I feel more supported to make those specific kinds of choices in regards to those relationships.

M: Definitely and I love that every time we run the piece Larry is really open to us playing with little changes or ideas that aren’t necessarily movement or choreographic changes, but just changes in intent and decision. Each time we do it I like to approach it differently, to discover new things within the process.

K: Do you ever find that for yourself it’s difficult to explore those darker attributes of your own human experience?

M: I mean yeah, there’s a certain amount of secrecy, maybe even shame, when you’re reflecting on yourself and your personal experiences. And a lot of times there are things you’re trying to change and things you don’t want to think about, so it’s difficult to bring those things up. But that’s the thing that sold me on being a modern dancer, this idea of finding a way to use as much of me as possible.  In modern dance, we get to be physical, we get to think, and especially with Larry, contribute, and search inside, so you’re using body mind and soul. I’ve never been flexible or the guy who’s doing 8 pirouettes, but I’ve always felt thoughtful about myself and my work and what I wanted to do. Modern dance allowed me to marry creativity and physicality in a way that doesn’t have to be like anybody else.

K: That’s something that I so enjoy about being in this company, that Larry encourages us to be individual movers.

M: Yes, he celebrates our differences and our individuality. We do a lot of unison but he doesn’t insist that everybody look the same. I think it brings a more colorful experience to the company as a whole and the audience’s experience of the company.

K: How do you find honesty from moment to moment in this piece?

M: I guess I get a little analytical with it, I think about what we’re doing exactly in this moment, and how I would personally do it if I was existing in that moment. After I’ve considered it from my point of view, I try to look at it outside of myself, how it would apply to a larger group of people. The cool thing about this piece is that there are those certain moments where you have a real clear idea about what this moment is about and then there are other moments that are just more physical and visceral. I think you have to trust those more physical moments, that you don’t necessarily need to layer it with all this other stuff, that they can stand on their own. I think it’s important to give the audience a chance to develop their own narrative.

K: With a lot of other art forms there are more direct ways of communicating relationship.  Do you believe with dance it’s possible to do what we’re attempting to do?

M: Well with songs or literature they have the tool of language and it’s a really direct way to say something. But I think we have tools in dance too that work in a similar way, like proximity and touch, they’re just a different vocabulary, a different language. These are things that happen in our every day lives that we are just sharing onstage. By taking away words or talking, you’re more aware of the senses that dance uses.

K: In delivering this experience to the audience, in the course of that week or opening night, what do you want to contribute or what do you want to take away?

M: I think the goal with dance is to be communicating. You’re not going to please everybody and that’s true in any aspect of your life.  As performers we have a desire to be pleasers. We want everyone to like us and we want the applause. But with this, I just want to come away feeling like we communicated a certain vision or experience that for that hour was real.  That would feel like succeeding.

Matt’s 5 Words for 2011:

AUTHENTIC. OPEN. COMMUNICATION. EXPLORATION. COMPASSION.

Photo by Matt Murphy, Rehearsal Photos by Whitney Browne

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