Awáa moves in ways you've never seen before

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A Chutzpah! Plus presentation. At the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre on Thursday, October 25. Continues October 27 and 28

In an interview in advance of Awáa’s debut here, choreographer Aszure Barton good-naturedly refused to say what the title meant. Words mean very little to the work of the from-the-heart artist, and they do very little to describe the oddly mesmerizing dance she’s created here.

It’s possible to write about the larger themes in Awáa—the repeating images of motherhood and its relationship to the masculine; the water motif, seen here in ethereal video and heard in gurgling sound, and its symbolism of the womb and life-giving. But that wouldn’t even go halfway to describing what the piece is really about: moving the human body to music in ways you haven’t quite seen before. Barton’s work has never been about intellectual ideas, but with Awáa, especially, she’s achieved something that is more about energy and soul than anything concrete.

The dance jumps between the graceful and the wonky—sometimes within split seconds, within the same body, the movement feeding off the opposing rhythms of Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin’s melodic strings and Curtis Macdonald’s thundering, primal percussion. Vancouver-born Lara Barclay holds the strong centre here, as she interacts with six men: the inspired Jonathan Emanuell Alsberry, William Briscoe, Tobin Del Cuore, Nicholas Korkos, Andrew Murdock, and Davon Rainey. In several offbeat solos, an often-bare-chested Murdock articulates every deltoid and trapezius. He sends movement shuddering through his neck and down his arms, channelling a mad mix of gesture that suggests everything from the chest-pounding to the chivalrous and from the martial arts to the balletic. Alsberry, Briscoe, and Rainey play an ever-accelerating game of repeated sequences, their rhythms reaching ecstatic, tribal heights to the sound of the pounding drums. And Barclay and Del Cuore have some strangely beautiful partnering, rolling sensually across the floor one minute, the next shuffling awkwardly around like they’re joined at the heels. It’s as if Barton is pulling the contradictory forces out of her dancers and mashing them together; emotions switch radically from the intense to the funny.

Some moments are more instantly familiar. At one point, Barclay is pulled in two directions like a rag doll by Alsberry and Briscoe, who Barton has managed to make squat and gesture to look like distracted toddlers; at another, she carries one while dragging the other by the arm. And the final image, of a man who has just done an empowered, masculine solo turning to melt into Barclay’s arms like a child, is one of the most moving dance closers I can remember since La La La Human Steps’ 2 (when Louise Lecavalier mourned her own death, under a projection of herself as a wilting old woman). We are all mothers,Awáa’s last moment seems to say, and somehow men are all our sons. Heavy.

Still, there are more sections of pure, unfettered dance. The show, like the title—and like life itself, actually—remains mysterious. And while those who like more concrete touchstones and theatrical concepts in their dance may find themselves lost at sea here, only occasionally finding something solid to grab onto, die-hard fans of innovative choreography will willingly plunge into its murky, quirky depths.

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