Article by Columbine Quillen
Local arts – April 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine
Barbara Baker was born in Central Colorado, but left our region at the age of three. Although born in Fairplay, Baker studied ballet in London and modern dance in New York City, and she danced professionally in both Chicago and New York.
Then Baker returned to Central Colorado.
After moving to Salida in 1987, Baker continued her dance career, by instructing both children and adults and working with local artists. Baker firmly believes that art should provide both entertainment and a learning experience.
In 1992, with Jan Ayre, an Australian dance instructor who spent a year in Salida, Baker developed a dance program at Longfellow Elementary School. Since then, Baker has continued the program and helps children choreograph short acts that contain dialogue and dancing.
In 1993, Baker started the Arrangement of Motion Dance Co. This dance group consists of 35 to 50 local people who vary in age and lifestyles.
Arrangement of Motion’s two primary productions were Franzhurst Pond, Swan Lake, Colorado, based on Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, and The Piñon Nut, based on the Nutcracker. Baker prides herself on incorporating regional dances such as clogging and country-western swing with traditional ballet and classical music in these works.
Although she admits that the Arrangement of Motions Dance Company productions were rather difficult to do, Baker considers them a success. “People got interested in dance and as a community program it was very successful, it bonded people from every walk of life together,” Baker said.
“I am most proud of the fact that a town this size in a rural area could enthusiastically participate in a community dance company. I had whole families and professional dancers participate. The people ranged in age from four to sixty-four. I think these productions brought people together in a medium that would have otherwise never happened. That, to me, is a strength of the arts.”
“The Piñon Nut and Franzhurst Pond related to people here. The local people got to go to the ballet and see good dancing with classical music, and it wasn’t so foreign.”
In 1995, Baker and Susan Topping, a local resident with an extensive theater background, created Dragonfly Theater and Dance Company. Dragonfly uses a combination of theater, dance, and local artwork by painters and sculptors for a visual/performing art form which is completely new.
“Susan and I wanted to develop an original medium. We were both interested in combining physical movement with the visual arts.”
Baker’s newest company, Dragonfly, consists of four local people who perform in three productions. Pajama Land is the story of a person who attempts suicide and is incarcerated in a mental institution. Juliet and Ham presents a conversation between Shakespeare’s Juliet and Hamlet. And Angels is about a woman, her husband, and a mistress who meet an angel in their next lives. The angel offers them the opportunity to transform their dire situations. One takes the proposition and ironically embarks upon a life of immobility and indecision while unhappily living in the status quo.
Angels is especially representative of Baker and Topping’s new art form because the dancers use a pivoting sculptor by Chris Byars to spin and dance with.
Baker says she really enjoys collaborating with local painters, jewelers, and sculptors. When she first came to Salida, local artists were her “best resource,” and they definitely helped her get going.
Baker debuted in Salida at the once-upon-a-time F Street Gallery, a cooperative art gallery, and she still collaborates with local artists. Works by Bernice Strawn, Jude Silva, Marcy Csicky, and Nancy Vickery have been incorporated into her dance routines.
But as a professional dancer who makes her living in Salida, Baker worries about the future. She believes that interest in dancing has declined since she arrived in the area. “Initially, there was a lot of curiosity and people were more open to take a chance because there were no expectations.”
In addition Baker said, “I feel strongly that art can bring people together, and it’s important to share and learn from that common ground. It is a difficult task, however, to do works that are important to me when they are controversial to the community.”
Baker feels that Salida has gotten more closed in regard to welcoming new things, and that people are growing more reluctant to take risks or a chance at something new. She attributes some of the problem to changes in the art community.
“Some artists began touting this as the next Aspen or Taos. I think that concept has caused a feeling of separation and elitism. In turn, I believe that we are in danger of losing the very energy that made us thrive in the first place.
“I also think that some local art councils and committees who are in a position to foster, sponsor, and encourage creative projects, have turned a deaf ear and blind eye to the possibilities and needs of the community. In return, the community is not as responsive as I have experienced in the past. There is now a gap existing between the `art community’ and `everyone else.'”
As Baker sees it, artists in Salida can’t afford to become a sort of elitist group that’s separate from the mainstream community. “I don’t think we have to lose what we have in order to embrace the new and see its potential, but I do think we have to have open dialogues about our fears and our hopes in order to be honest with one another about our needs. We have to welcome new members of our community who want to contribute, while leaving the doors open to who is already here.
“I think we can become a unique and genuine Salida and not a mimic of somewhere else.”
Aside from working with her dance companies, Baker also teaches modern dance, ballet, and yoga in her studio in lower downtown Salida. If you’re interested in upcoming productions, or workshops (there is one in Westcliffe on Aug. 2 and 3), or in studying dance, call Baker at 719-539-2849.
Columbine Quillen is entertainment editor of Top of the World, the student newspaper at Western State College. Fortunately for her future and to the great relief of her parents, she is majoring in business, not English or journalism.