In memory of Diane Baker: one of the last working dance journalists, a true dance aficionado and dear friend.
On Friday, through a mutual friend, I received the shocking news that dance critic Diane Baker had passed away suddenly at her apartment in Tianmu, Taipei.
The news quickly spread, and messages of concern quickly swarmed in from the dance community in Taiwan and abroad. Her sister Sharon in the US later confirmed that Diane died of a heart attack on Wednesday last week. She was 65.
Diane was a dear friend to Taiwan’s dance community. Her frequent appearance at dance performances in venues big and small in Taipei, and even later in the newer performing arts centers in Taichung and Weiwuying in Kaohsiung, was a sign of reassurance for many dance companies and artists.
Due to health issues, whenever she came to the Taipei National University of the Arts campus dance theater, I would ask our staff to reserve an aisle seat for her viewing comfort. I felt that was the least I could do for a dear friend, who faithfully supported us year after year, unless she went home to Maryland to visit her family over the holidays.
Most of us know of Diane through her weekly feature articles related to the performing arts in Taiwan, either in the form of previews or reviews, and I was surprised when I first learned a while ago that her official role at the Taipei Times was not as a dance critic.
A former producer and anchor at the English-language radio station International Community Radio Taipei (ICRT) on Yangmingshan from 1992 to 1999, Diane was actually a deputy chief copy editor and feature reporter at the only surviving English-language newspaper in print in Taiwan, with nightly deadlines to meet.
She often had to carefully plan ahead her day off on Saturdays to squeeze in a matinee and an evening performance during the tightly packed performing season, which was quite frequent indeed, except during the brief COVID-19 lockdown in Taiwan last spring.
Tracing back and piecing together information available on short notice, Diane’s love for dance was mostly nurtured while studying at George Washington University, where she had the opportunity to watch the best dance companies perform at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Center in Washington.
According to her short biography from the Back to the Moment: Dancing Talking Bar talk hosted by the Horse Dance Theater in 2019, Diane began writing about dance in 1983, covering major dance performances for the Journal newspaper chain in suburban Washington and neighboring Virginia and Maryland.
Upon moving to Taiwan in the mid-1980s, Diane continued to cover dance and theater for the local Bang magazine in Taipei, among others. However, as she was busy with her work as senior news producer for ICRT, her dance writing was put aside — until her passion for dance journalism was reignited upon seeing ballet idol Mikhail Baryshnikov and his White Oak Dance Project perform in Taipei in 2001. By then, Diane had already joined the Taipei Times. She had worked since its founding in 1999.
Diane described herself in her Facebook profile as “Raised in Germany, Maryland, Kansas, Thailand and Okinawa. Citizen of the world.” As her father served in the US Army, she grew up living in different continents, enriching her cosmopolitan perspective of politics and the arts.
On countless occasions when we met up during dance concerts, or leaving together from the theater or dropping her off when I drove, we often exchanged thoughts about the performances we saw, the artists we admired and chitchatted about the fun stuff in life, such as our mutual fondness for Thailand. In fact, the signature loose shirt that Diane wore like a uniform was tailored during her trips to Bangkok, where she ordered many of the same style, but in different colors, since she proudly said it fitted her so comfortably and was good for all occasions.
As a dance academic, I often attend three or more dance concerts per week. Diane envied that I was able to see so many performances, and sad that she had to select a few that could fit her schedule.
As fellow dance fans, I would on occasion invite her to join our group ticket discount purchases to be able to attend higher-priced performances. I recall that after watching French ballet star Sylvie Guillem’s farewell concert 6000 Miles Away at the National Theater in Taipei in 2014, we were both mesmerized and lingered on for the post-show event, where I took a snapshot of Diane photographing Sylvie and her long line of fans (including myself) waiting to get an autograph.
As a night owl myself, Diane would at times text me in the middle of the night to confirm some facts about the dance pieces she was diligently writing about, especially as many dance companies’ press releases or programs are only available in Chinese.
She was most supportive of our Taipei National University of the Arts School of Dance productions, making her way over to our campus in the mountains of Guandu, even in bad weather and rush-hour traffic, to show her genuine support.
On rare occasions when there were some discrepancies after reading her writings, I would send her a message, and luckily she could post any necessary adjustments on the online version.
I am flattered by her words: “Thanks, as always, for reading my pieces as carefully as you do. I really do appreciate it.”
At a time when dance criticism all over the world has almost vanished from print media, her stellar dance writing was an important witness of the lively dance scene in Taiwan over the decades.
The last time I saw Diane in person was at Bulareyaung Dance Company’s fifth anniversary LIMA special program at the Cloud Gate Theatre in late November last year. As we rode the MRT home, the memory of her rotund silhouette and friendly smile, with her cheerful eyes framed by her glasses, is still deeply imprinted in my memory.
Not long ago, Diane shared a photograph of a rainbow from the view of her window in the Taipei Times’ office building in Neihu District (內湖). As Diane now joins her parents somewhere over the rainbow, I will always think of her whenever another rainbow comes in sight.
Lin Yatin is associate professor of Dance Studies at Taipei National University of the Arts School of Dance.
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