JONATHON LUKE BAKER
Dance Artist & Movement Director
Jonathon Baker is a dance artist and movement director. He has danced for companies such as Royal Opera, Rambert Company and has just finished a tour of the groundbreaking Swan Lake by Matthew Bourne with New Adventures.
Baker’s work is inspired by different dance styles but his main desire is to express a feeling or mood whether that be through technical choreography or raw movement.
Jonathan has created a new piece of work in collaboration with LEVEL’s CONTAINER projects entitled ‘INHABITANTS’. This new work is being premiered from the 18th to the 19th of September.
I was able to sit down with Jonathon a few weeks ago (via Zoom) and talk about his career and his new working practice. We started by discussing Jonathon’s background, I was interested to hear where he feels his style comes from and what he thinks has led him to where he is today.
“I started from a young age in ballet when I was around 10 and then left home to train at the Royal Ballet school in classical ballet for seven years. I actually stopped dancing for about a year and a half but then I found my love for contemporary dance and trained in contemporary for three years. I worked in contemporary for a bit and then slowly found my way into working with more artists which was where I became really interested in creating my own work at the same time. I think I found that through seeing the passion in other artists making work, I was inspired myself.”
Jonathon has spent time working on fashion and art shoots as a dancer and model and has found it a really inspiring environment to be immersed in.
“I was really lucky that when I was about 16 and I kind of fell into modelling. I wasn’t really interested in the modelling as such, but I was interested in meeting the people that came with it, and then seeing how they would create! Watching these inspirational people first hand was really amazing.”
We talked about the creativity of modelling and that for Jonathon, it wasn’t about being just a clotheshorse and standing there being photographed, it was about the whole process – the connection between the subject and the artist was what made him want to dig deeper and create his own work. His interest in the concept and the ideas behind images have really driven his interests.
We had to talk about his experience touring with Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake earlier this year (I’m a huge fan), and now in its 25th year, it is the longest running West End ballet in history.
“It was a whole experience within itself really, and something that I know so many dancers want to tick off their ‘list’- it was just such an amazing experience. I love the way that Matthew’s work is still shocking people today, he’s breaking down barriers and the fact that this work was originally for an audience 25 years ago speaks volumes to the bravery of ideas he is trying to portray. He’s always got some kind of queer or LGBT storyline within his work, whether it’s super obvious, or just under the surface, it’s always prominent in his work and I think that’s really important and inspiring.”
Jonathon is obviously really inspired by working with other creatives, something we feel passionate about at LEVEL. It’s this inspiration that has pushed him to pursue his own projects and lead the exploration of his own ideas.
“For maybe the past four years, my career has been more about being a physical body or other people’s visions, which I do still love. But I think the more I work with artists, the more I’ve come to appreciate the creation of an idea, not necessarily just portraying someone else’s. I get to work really collaboratively with an artist which is always a really fulfilling experience, but I feel like I owe it to myself to carve out the time to also create what I’m interested in personally, to make something that has completely begun with my vision. I’m definitely not finished with my dance career just yet, but I definitely want to reevaluate a few things so that I can also create my own work.”
This time to reevaluate has been something discussed at length by many in the creative industries at the moment. Whilst trying to adapt and survive the challenges COVID-19 has brought, it has also been a time to really stop and think about what we are trying to achieve. To get some space and distance from the never ending merry go round of work/life.
“It’s been really exposing this ‘time’ we’ve all had. When you haven’t got the noise around you, suddenly you’re forced to actually think about what’s going on rather than just going with the flow the whole time. You don’t have any other choice than to reevaluate – there’s nothing else to distract you.”
Jonathon’s new piece, INHABITANTS, created in collaboration with LEVEL, has brought together two ongoing bodies of work for both parties, and also been a reaction to this new ‘time’ we are all experiencing. We talked about the piece and how Jonathon has developed it through conversations, observations and his own experiences – I really wanted to delve a little deeper into the themes of his work.
“I love the body and what it is capable of doing, I like finding and considering interesting pathways for the body. I never want a piece to only be about that, but I think there’s something really beautiful with just the expression of the instrument that we have. Most of the work I create, whilst I am still early on in my career, has always inherently come from my queerness my queer identity. I always want to make work that has come from a place of complete acceptance of every person. I want to create a space which welcomes everyone, whether it’s to do with religion or race, sexual identity or gender expression – anything, I want to create something that’s visually stunning and is safe within its own world.”
Jonathon has worked with artists who have explored this idea of other-worldly places and this has really inspired his own work.
“Taboos and societal expectations just don’t exist in that place. I find something really interesting about exposing people to things they wouldn’t necessarily see on a regular basis, and doing so in hope that when they see that same expression of gender (or whatever it is), in the real world, that they don’t find it as jarring – that they become more accepting of it by absorbing the work.”
Jonathon explained to me some of the stereotypes – particularly based around gender – that are prevalent in the dance world and how he feels he has changed himself to fit a certain role, or what he thinks might make him fit that role in a more acceptable way. It is obvious to him that whilst it is not expected for you to conform to some of these pressures, the progression of your career can be affected if you don’t. He tries to look for both the positive and negative aspects of adapting to roles and frames these all together with the overarching idea of self awareness.
“For example, when I started on Swan Lake, I was playing a heterosexual and very hetronormative, macho character and I felt really uncomfortable in the beginning. I found myself changing the way I wore clothes and things like that! But then halfway through I realised ‘oh actually, I’m capable of both’, I don’t have to pigeonhole myself into this. It’s okay to be masculine when you want to be as it is to be feminine when you want to, as long as you’re aware.”
“In that way, the piece ‘INHABITANTS’ is based around lots of different aspects of body image and something I’m really interested in which is physical responses to feeling self-conscious and intimidated. This brings in the self-awareness aspect – do we even know we are changing who we are to conform to something we may have just dreamt up in our minds? Where is the root of this ‘insecurity’? And are we actually self aware enough to really even recognise what we’re doing.”
Jonathon has researched, through conversation and observations, people’s subconscious reactions to certain situations, and uses this to inform both his choreographed and intuitive movement.
“For example, the chest caving inwards seems to be a reaction to make yourself less visible and smaller, which in your mind can protect you from judgment, making yourself less prominent. I’m really interested in creating movements that are derived from the idea of something that happens to you physically, as a reaction to a social environment.”
INHABITANTS will explore these common gestures found in everyday body language. These are translated into repetitive movements, carefully developing and transforming into intriguing physical motifs. The work sets out to portray how connections between our personal body language and our sense of self image manifest within our society. In doing so, INHABITANTS explores Jonathon’s personal relationships to his body, including his identities as a queer person, as a dancer and as a human being.
Jonathon’s 30 minute performance piece will be screened for 24 hours over the 18th and 19th of September, if you want to be the first to see it then please sign up to our mailing list
The piece is in response to our work on CONTAINMENT, which is a collection of projects that can ask some interesting and some difficult questions but give permission to provide no answers. CONTAINER is provocative, political and to an extent, deliberately naïve.