Brigid Baker brings the Magic City and Motor City together

arts / Article

Above: “Magic City vs. Motor City.” Photos by Neil de la Flor.

Miami-based Brigid Baker did an incredible thing: she connected two cities, two disparate urban dance and music cultures, in real time with her project “Magic City vs. Motor City: Internet2 Freestyle.” A two-city freestyle collaboration for urban youth dancers, “Magic City vs. Motor City” was made possible by a Detroit Knight Arts Challenge grant. The grant is Baker’s third–she previously won two in Miami.

“Detroit is a very important city to me, and watching it fall into bankruptcy made me want to try to offer some kind of support, so I thought of the Knight Arts Challenge grant,” said Baker, founder of Miami-based 6th Street Dance Studio/WholeProject.

On March 22nd, Baker turned the New World Center on Miami Beach into a technological portal that allowed for space and time to collapse. Through the collaborative project, she connected eight former and current Knight Arts Challenge winners together onstage and behind the scenes. Youth dancers freestyled in front of Internet2 screens in a friendly yet fierce dance-off, to music created by New World Symphony fellow Chris Hernacki. Wayne State University musicians and former Detroit Symphony Orchestra bassist Rick Robinson then brought musicians together and split them up to perform live in both cities. (To view a recorded stream of the Detroit side, click here.)

“The idea for the type of grant came at an Internet2 workshop. The talk of screen latency made me ask who had the least trouble with latency,” said Baker. “They said jazz musicians–so I thought that those with improvisational and freestyle skills had an ear training that enabled an ability to quickly adapt. So I thought of the urban dancers and their freestyle training. I thought it would be interesting to see a real time Internet2 freestyle between different cities where urban dance tells a specific story about people and place–and where rhythm and music differ and also blend.”

Like her projects, Baker is neither one-dimensional nor localized. She has an extensive background in ballet; studied music and theory; performed classical voice; acted; and currently oversees the TruSchool, a free hip hop program for youth. Baker is not afraid to reach beyond her comfort zone, or maybe she’s just comfortable in every zone, and has this direct ability to bring people together, even across cultures, space and time.

“I researched Detroit for the most authentic guy I could find and came upon Haleem Stringz Rasul and his Hardcore Detroit,” said Baker. “He was creating a documentary to preserve the legacy of the 1970s dance, the Detroit Jit, that featured the original Jitterbugs and a video of Jit basics. I cold-called him and he said yes. (He won a Knight Arts Challenge in 2013, but I had called him before he won).”

The irony is that Magic City vs. Motor City isn’t a competition. It’s a collaboration. Us with them. Detroit and Miami.

The ultimate goal is really about process and sharing cultural information–not a goal per se. The process will deliver the goal, but bringing as many artists of like mind together to form an infrastructure of support was important,” Baker said.

Miami and Detroit have rich musical histories, but our cities risk losing their unique heritage with economic, social and political pressures. Baker created a moment to relieve those pressures and provided both communities the opportunity to keep (and make) our histories’ ongoing contemporary narratives.

“Urban dance reflects that history and tells the story,” Baker said. “Those stories differ in many ways and come together in others. After last night’s event, I know that Hardcore Detroit, Live in Color Dance Collective and the FunkyServBots will stay in touch. The attendees and administrations of Internet2 and Wayne State would like to continue their exchange/collaboration as well. And we are all happy to oblige.”

The Knight Arts Challenge is open in Detroit, Miami, Akron and St. Paul through May 2. Apply at knightarts.org.

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