Ever-creative Aszure Barton taps watery dream for Awáa

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Aszure Barton was in Banff choreographing her new work, Awáa, when she had a dream so striking that it would not leave her when she woke up in the morning. At first she saw herself in a rocking chair under water; then it became one of her dancers sitting there. Most people would just shrug a dream like this one off as some weird assimilation of the previous day’s events. But Barton, with the help of the Banff Centre, was inspired to literally make her dream come true.

The result is video footage of her dancers, sometimes in that chair, sometimes swirling around in the centre’s Sally Borden swimming pool, bubbles spiralling around them.

“It was incredible; it was very emotional. It sounds trite to say you have a dream about something and can really make it come to life,” says Barton, who’s talking to the Straight from New York, a nominal home for the nomadic, internationally in-demand artist who has only spent four weeks there this year. “We had to have the recreational department involved, the lighting department—it was not a small feat.”

The video, which audiences will see projected in parts of Awáa, is a vivid example of how the busy young dance artist fearlessly follows her heart. Unlike many choreographers today, she never approaches her work with a set plan or concept. Instead, she heads, into the studio with her dancers and works with them not only to explore what their bodies can do but to uncover some of their deepest emotions.

“That’s how I’m able to work so much,” says the prolific artist, who has created work for everyone from Nederlands Dans Theater to the National Ballet of Canada and Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Hell’s Kitchen Dance. “I learn so much from going in naked and saying, ‘Where is this going to take us?’ and the dancers all have so much to say.”


Watch a preview of Awáa.

Although Barton has created pieces for many other companies, her most personal work always comes from the dancers she knows best—the ones in her own Aszure Barton & Artists. The group, represented in this work by one female and six male dancers, has an almost unspoken understanding that lets them try bold new movement while exposing their true selves.

“They’re so smart and they trust me like you wouldn’t believe. That allows me to take risks,” Barton says with the same authentic passion that drives her dance. “The creative endurance they have is exceptional. I will not stop until I have something,” she explains.

Barton adds that the six-show run, presented here by the Chutzpah Festival (outside of the event’s regular spring dates), will allow those dancers to dig deeper into the work, which explores notions of the feminine and masculine, earth and water, as well as the idea of time slowing down. “This group of people is at a point where they’re willing to share so much of themselves, and they’re not afraid to express and show their passions for something much bigger than dance.”

While many artists struggle for inspiration or wrack themselves trying to realize a concept, Barton insists she has never had a block. The ideas flow in the studio and the work evolves out of that experimentation.

“I’m unafraid in that realm of the emotional,” the Alberta-born sibling to dancers Cherice and Charissa Barton says. “You can’t care what other people think. I’ve dedicated my life to this thing and it is everything for me and it makes me very emotional. Why not celebrate that and share that?”

It’s important to note that her work also flows not just out of the emotional realm, but also directly out of the music. For Awáa, Barton brought together two contrasting musicians—Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin and Curtis Macdonald—early in the creation process to compose the score. She describes Zhurbin’s string work as soaring and heartfelt and Macdonald’s percussion as soulful and earthbound. “In my work in general I’m realizing music is energy and movement is energy,” she says.

Creating a piece is clearly an intense experience for the choreographer and her artists—one so consuming that it even enters her dreams at night. But it’s a process that has recently caused Barton, a National Ballet School grad whose career has exploded over a relatively short period of time, to reflect. “I do think one can take on too much: I’ve had an amazing eight years. My creative juices will always be there; I can go, go, go,” she explains. “But the simple things of living tend to get pushed aside because I’m always interested in making work. Lately I’ve realized the creativity will be stinted if I don’t take care of my body and my health. So I’m now allotting big chunks of time for myself,” she says with a pensive pause, and then adds: “I’ve learned to be more patient with myself; sometimes less is more.”

Aszure Barton & Artists’ Awáa is at the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre from Wednesday to next Sunday (October 24 to 28).

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