In Conversation with Corey Baker
Corey Baker is an award winning New Zealand choreographer based in the UK. While he was back home over summer, Chief Executive Anton Carter had the opportunity to sit down with him and discuss life, the ways of universe and the lasting impact of seeing an outdoor performance at just seven years old in his hometown Christchurch.
Telephone boxes, headphones, beach parties, rugby stadiums, abandoned banks and a children’s playground are all backdrops for the creative world of choreographer Corey Baker. Working across TV, film, theatre, outdoor and bizarre locations, Corey creates accessible dance experiences and takes work to global communities to be enjoyed by large and diverse audiences.
How would you describe your background?
In no way shape or form was I elite. I was the underdog of all underdogs. I had nothing but maybe charisma and determination. We all have different things we can draw on. There are no excuses for not being successful in what you want. If you want things bad enough you make them happen, a tad of “the American dream”, but I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t believe that.
What has made you so determined?
To feel determination, you have to feel the opposite, don’t you? You have to feel so broken and ready to give up that you choose to either give up or become even more determined to achieve your goals and find the drive to carry on, to move forward.
My amazing mum – a constant idol and inspiration to me, but she was really very poor. I didn’t have the latest toys, or devices, and I was an only child, so to keep myself entertained I chose to create things. I created a heightened sense of reality for myself, new worlds, my own friends and adventures.
These experiences helped develop a lifelong ingrained personality, infused with escapism and creativity, where I turned low points into high points. I’m constantly optimistic because of my childhood. I use it as a way of going forward and to not be drawn into feeling sad or sorry for myself, it grounds me.
What inspired you to want to pursue a career in dance?
Because I was an only child, I loved performing and entertaining and attracted friends by entertaining them or making them laugh. I remember turning our garage into a theatre space and ruining all my mum’s sheets. I’d just get people in and create shows for them. I had a real desire to be in the performing arts. This is where my love for creating worlds began.
When I was seven I went to this free outdoor show in Hagley Park, Christchurch. I remember sitting there and thinking, wow this is amazing - mesmerised by the magic of this new reality in my own reality. My mum took me back every night and one night I got to go back stage and see the secrets behind the world they had so cleverly created. I was transfixed by the levers, cables, the little devices and gadgets that made everything happen. It got me hooked - it was a real anchor for me!
Did you like the way it took you into another world or another reality?
Yes, what it represented for me was a kind of magic - like when you’re in the cinema and if all components of cinematography, script, characters work well and to their max, you lose yourself in the story, in the film and time just disappears. For a moment, you and your world do not exist but you are in the world that someone has carefully crafted out for you. I absolutely love that.
When did you get exposed to dance?
When I was four or five, I started doing acting classes. My tutors suggested I take a one-off ballet class. I hated it – I cried and screamed during it and was taken out half way through the class – that was it for ballet, well for a while. I got a bit more serious with acting and got into musicals and discovered tap dancing. I loved the energy, rhythm and discipline it demanded and took this very seriously for a period.
When I was in high school, one of my English teachers found out that I was into tap dancing. She also taught ballet at a private dance school and told me that I should do ballet instead of tap. I
said; "look I already get made fun of enough, I’m not going to do ballet". She replied; "if you do ballet classes after school I’ll give you free lessons and pass you in English". That was the best
manipulation technique ever. So, I started ballet and ended up having a nice little career as a ballet dancer.
How did you end up in the UK doing what you are doing now?
I left school at 15, and trained full time with Carl Myers in Christchurch. Carl taught me discipline and triggered the love and respect for ballet and dance I now have. I then received a scholarship to train at Tanya Pearson’s Classical Coaching Academy in Sydney Australia.
After a stint of work in Europe and USA, where I did neo classical/ballet professionally for four years, I got an opportunity to join the ‘Ballet Boys’ in London. In my spare time, I started doing my own choreography and found I enjoyed that more than dancing. So, I began to focus more on that and things have just evolved from there.
While my dance company is run out of Birmingham, UK, our work and collaborations are global. I am always trying to challenge myself, the dance and the audience with the work I choose to do and create. At the end of the year I am going to create the first dance on Antarctica – not quite climbing Mt Everest but another kiwi first to add to the list. I have a work that uses a telephone box and one with headphones that tour constantly. Recently I have been working across film – the new Fat Freddy’s Drop music video I just directed is currently in post-production and will be out very soon.
Do you think those early experiences helped shape your adult life?
Yes, I firmly believe that. All that creativity, imagination and magic enabled me to do what I do and actually, to enjoy life.
What would you tell a 7-year old boy in a similar position to yourself when you were at that age?
That’s hard … never let anyone or anything shake the childlike imagination out of you – it’s one of the best gifts we have. Stay clear of sangria … be responsible for your actions.
Go to coreybakerdance.com for more about Corey’s history and current work.
The influence of seeing a performing art show or dance performance at an early age can make a significant difference to peoples’ lives. We should never underestimate the power of the arts to be a transformative force, which can have lifelong impacts.
Download the article: In Conversation with CoreyBaker