Esther Baker-Tarpaga

Who Am I ?


June 2012

1: Who am I?

I am a choreographer, cultural worker, performance artist, professor, and mom.

2: What do you do and what project are you currently working on?

I am a choreographer and performance artist who makes dances for stage and for site. I am a border crossing ethnographer whose research is a performative investigation into interculturalism and memory. I draw from the beauty and dissonance of the human condition. I am part of a generation of collaborating border crossing artists. I say this because I came of age in an era when there was little funding for the arts and for emerging choreographers. Because of this my generation had to be resourceful and innovative in creating performances that were in non-traditional spaces. We also had to be creative in trading with fellow artists, and thus interdisciplinary. My dance theatre company, Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project, is transnational. The company is based in Columbus, Ohio and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. For fifteen years, I have immersed myself in the Senegalese Sabar dance traditions and in the contemporary dance revolution that is happening on the African continent. My choreography, teaching, and collaborations have been showcased at African contemporary dance festivals in Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Morocco, Mali, Guinea, and Madagascar. My choreography and cultural politics have been influenced by the work of David Rousseve, whose company I danced with for five years, Victoria Marks, who I also worked with for several years, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, late 90’s Contact Improvisation in San Francisco, the hip hop generation, and scholars of the African diaspora.

I am currently touring my production Beautiful Struggle, an evening length dance theatre piece which examines identity issues through dance, performance art, and the spoken word. I have an ongoing collaboration with visual artist, Nicole Bauguss, and we are currently developing the site based installation performance titled Whiteness Revisited. The performance looks the relationship between race and place. Another project I have in the works is a collaboration with Moroccan choreographer Hind Benali. I also direct a blog called Shifting Traces: Contemporary Dance In and Outside of Africa that profiles contemporary African dance artists and their work.

3: Where are you from and where are you going?

I grew up in the rugged nature of the Rocky Mountatins and the throbbing nightlife of Dakar dance parties. I’m heading to the ocean and desert of mindfulness.

4: Who is your biggest hero?

President Obama, Pina Bausch, David Rousseve, Nelisiwe Xaba, and my daughter.

5: What book is your bible?

Ethno-Techno by Guillermo Gómez-Peña. The Black Atlantic by Paul Gilroy. Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki.

6: What are some things you love? And some things you hate?

I love watching my daughter dance in our living room, going to the movies with my husband, experiencing Sabar dance in Senegal, kind and generous individuals, acupuncture, Yoga, supportive friends, the redwoods, and the ocean.
I hate bureaucracy and political standstills. I hate war and violence. I hate jealous bitches.

7: What is your raison d’être?

To bring people together to provoke cross-cultural dialogue, community building, and healing through the arts. I am working on figuring life out.

8: What is your favorite color?

Teal blue green.

9: Who is your favorite comic book superhero?

Wonder Woman.

10: What is your favorite NYC hot spot?

The Shrine in Harlem.

11: What turns you on?

Anything chocolate.

12: What would the last question of this questionnaire be if you were the one asking?
What are you doing 5 minutes from now? I’m going to acupuncture.

Esther Baker-Tarpaga is Co-artistic director of Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project, a transnational dance theatre company founded in 2004. Based in Columbus, Ohio and Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, BT Dance Project intertwines West African dance and postmodern dance with live music to create physically powerful and socially relevant dance theater. Baker-Tarpaga recently was invited through the US State Department to teach and lecture at KINANI Contemporary Dance Festival in Mozambique and Ateliers Aex-Corps in Senegal and from 2006-2008 she was a US State Department Cultural Envoy invited to teach contemporary dance in Burkina Faso, South Africa, Botswana, and Guinea. Baker-Tarpaga is also an Assistant Professor of Dance at Ohio State University.


Esther Baker-Tarpaga Website

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Questions by PMc Magazine

Edited by Ceara Maria Burns

Photography by Nick Fancher

Design by Jillian Mercado

Contact Jillian Mercado if you’re interested in becoming a “Who Am I?”


Esther Baker-Tarpaga, 2012, Photography by Nick Fancher

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