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Dancer Peggy Baker wins inaugural arts prize

Canadian modern dance icon Peggy Baker has been named the inaugural winner of Ontario's Premier's Award for excellence in the arts.

Canadian modern dance icon Peggy Baker has been named the inaugural winner of Ontario's Premier's Award for excellence in the arts.

Baker won the fledgling $35,000 cultural honour at an eveningceremony held at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum on Monday.

Dancer, choreographer and instructor Peggy Baker has won Ontario's inaugural Premier's Award for excellence in the arts. ((Cylla von Tiedemann/Government of Ontario))

"I am humbled and deeply honoured to have my contributions recognized," the dancer, choreographer and teacher said in a statement.

"For more than a decade, the value of art and the place of the artist in our society has been systematically discredited and relegated to the fringes by all levels of government in Canada," shesaid, going on to praisethe establishment of the new prize.

"I applaud Premier [Dalton] McGuinty and Minister [Caroline] Di Cocco for their boldness in establishing a prize that acknowledges the breadth and excellence of Ontario's cultural sector and celebrates the arts as an essential and integral aspect of our society."

Originally from Edmonton, Baker moved to Toronto in the 1970s and began to make her mark on the international dance scene. She was one of the founders of contemporary troupe Dancemakers, toured with Lar Lubovitch's company inNew Yorkand was a member of Mark Morris and Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project.

Baker, 54, has also become a noted instructor and mentor, teaching dance at a number of schools, including Juilliard School, New York University, the University of California Santa Barbara and York University.

As part of her win, Baker was asked to select an emerging artist to support with a secondary $15,000 prize. She named Singapore-born, Toronto-baseddancer and choreographer Yvonne Ng as her co-winner.

Other finalists for the first ever prize included playwright Judith Thompson, the De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre Group, contemporary multimedia artist Juan Geuer, the Ottawa Chamber Music Society and Le Théâtre du Nouvel-Ontario. Each finalist received $2,000.

Administered by the Ontario Arts Council, the award was established in 2006 by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to recognize the outstanding achievement of an individual artist or group. Those involved in visual art, craft, dance, music, opera, theatre, media arts, writing, film, television or sound recording are all eligible.

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