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To celebrate Antarctica Live at the Science Museum, we speak to award-winning choreographer Corey Baker about his trip to the coldest, driest, windiest place on Earth to film Antarctica: The First Dance.

SCIENCE MUSEUM: How did the idea to explore Antarctica through dance come about? Was there a specific moment or event that inspired it?

COREY BAKER: On a human level, I have always been fascinated by Antarctica, probably more so because I grew up in Christchurch and visited the Antarctica centre frequently as a boy. As an artist, Antarctica also captivated me – a barely populated place with very few man-made constructions, a place that is beyond beautiful – more than any picture, painting, piece of music or film. My love for Antarctica was always there and grew even stronger through this project. I have been lucky enough to choreograph in many unusual locations before, which gave me a great foundation for working on Antarctica: The First Dance.

I wanted to highlight Antarctica’s epic landscape and vast beauty, but at the same time show that it is under threat – climate change impact is real and immediate. By showing up-close the beauty of this incredible place, people can feel closer to something that may otherwise seem abstract and unconnected. As an individual, I aim to take conscious steps to help mitigate climate change, and wanted to inspire others to do the same.

SM: What have you enjoyed most so far about showcasing your new dance at the Science Museum for Antarctica Live?

CB: Our dance film Antarctica: The First Dance has been viewed over 1.5 million times online, and although I believe digital engagement is important and offers a way to access vast amount of people, it was really important for me to have a live experience for people to engage with.

Dancers from the Corey Baker Dance company performing a newly devised dance at Antarctica Live
Dancers from the Corey Baker Dance company performing a newly devised dance at Antarctica Live.

Antarctica Live brings together all our digital elements with a brand new dance performance and interactive workshops. I am so thrilled to be collaborating with the Science Museum and to be able to offer people a new way of learning about Antarctica through art and science.

SM: Tell us about your trip to Antarctica to film Antarctica: The First Dance. What did you learn about the continent while you were there?

CB: Scott Base is the New Zealand base in Antarctica, 20 minutes away from the American base. There was a gym, shop, sauna, workshop lab, science labs, computer rooms, library, table tennis, and rock-climbing wall… It was very comfortable, and you don’t have to go outside, as there’s a corridor that links everything together. We spent nights and some of our days in there. It fits about 130 people – it was full of scientists and community engagement people.

Madeleine Graham and Corey Baker in Antarctica for the filming of Antarctica: The First Dance. Copyright Jacob Bryant
Madeleine Graham and Corey Baker in Antarctica for the filming of Antarctica: The First Dance. © Jacob Bryant

In Antarctica you can’t leave anything anywhere – every day you get designated a pee and poo bucket, which you have to clean out and bring back. By the end of the trip I was cleaning out everyone else’s [bucket] as I’d got used to it. There’s no private room for it, you just carry it round with you and go when you need.

I loved being there – but there was a mixture of being in a place I’d always wanted to be as a human, seeing things I never thought I’d see. Things that were there naturally that artists could spend years trying to create. I felt thankful and lucky and honoured, it was like Christmas day on repeat, every day.

I came away with a profound respect for the planet and a huge sense of responsibility – I don’t want to say I’ve contributed to the destruction of the most beautiful place on the planet.

Antarctica. Credit: British Antarctic Survey
Antarctica © British Antarctic Survey

SM: What were the biggest challenges you faced in Antarctica?

CB: Obviously, the actual dancing in the snow was extremely hard, and unpredictable – we sometimes suddenly found ourselves in a meter of snow! The cold was obviously a challenge on an hourly basis. Maddy [Graham] doesn’t even wear gloves in the film!

It was very hard and strenuous on Maddy, as she wasn’t able to rehearse and refine. Everything was going against us – Maddy had never been in snow, camping, in a film, or in a dorm room. She was completely out of her comfort zone. It’s the opposite of what a dancer needs to thrive: no sleep, 24-hour light, unstable ground and it was obviously very cold outside.

Antarctica was the director: it would tell you it’s too windy, too bright, or too cold. We had to listen and respond to that.

Madeleine Graham in Antarctica: The First Dance © Jacob Bryant
Madeleine Graham in Antarctica: The First Dance © Jacob Bryant

SM: Did you meet any penguins?

CB: Yes – we saw a bunch of penguins.

And we were at Scott’s Hut one Sunday and heard crackling… When we looked, we saw three orcas next to us bobbing their heads above the sea ice. They were dancing in the water, water coming out of their blowholes. It was beautiful. Maddy ended up dancing on the hill overlooking them. I even ended up adopting a whale, it’s called Corey.

Madeleine Graham, Corey Baker in Antarctica for the filming of Antarctica: The First Dance. Copyright Jacob Bryant
Madeleine Graham and Corey Baker in Antarctica for the filming of Antarctica: The First Dance. © Jacob Bryant

Antarctica Live took place at the Science Museum from 14-30 August 2018.

It was accompanied by the premier of Dancing on Icebergs, a documentary following Corey and Maddy as they venture out into the extreme cold of Antarctica to film Antarctica: The First Dance. This was followed by a live Q&A with Corey. The event took place on Wednesday 29 August at Science Museum Lates.