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July 26, 2005

Aszure Barton — The next Mark Morris?


She's a young Canadian choreographer (above) described as "extraordinary" and "uncompromising" by none other than Mikhail Baryshnikov, who made the comparison to the young Morris.

Claudia La Rocco wrote about the new new thing in modern dance in a story that appeared in Sunday's New York Times; it follows.

    Choreographing a Toothlock on a Dancer's Tongue

    Ask people to describe Aszure Barton's work, and the adjectives fly: dynamic, tribal, demanding, musical, authentic, risky.

    But ask them to place her in a tradition, and you're likely to get silence.

    "I don't think you can categorize her," said Robin Staff, director of the Dancenow/NYC festival, which has shown Ms. Barton's work since 2003.

    "She's definitely rooted in classical ballet but with strong jazz overtones and also a more ethnic or primitive side. She likes to take risks, which is what people downtown do often."

    Born in Alberta, Ms. Barton, who just turned 30, trained at the National Ballet School in Toronto, and danced with the company on graduation.

    A 1994 grant from the Canada Council for the Arts allowed her to study with adventuresome European choreographers like Jiri Kylian.

    She returned the following year to dance with Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, but her hunger to choreograph led her to Manhattan, where she worked with various companies, presenting her own work wherever she could.

    In 2003, her one-year-old company, ASzURe & Artists performed at the Joyce SoHo Theater.

    Not so unusual - until one notes her 2004 Juilliard commission or sees that a chief booster is Mikhail Baryshnikov, who described her in an interview as "extraordinary" and "uncompromising," comparing her, when pressed, to a young Mark Morris.

    This summer, she was artist in residence at the new Baryshnikov Arts Center in Manhattan.

    From July 28 through 31, ASzURe & Artists is performing at Jacob's Pillow, in Becket, Mass.

    Ella Baff, the Pillow's executive director, also hesitated to place Ms. Barton in one tradition.

    Instead, she praised the choreographer's musical intelligence and self-editing abilities, pointing to an impressive development of emotion and vocabulary between the 2002 "Mais We" and this year's "Lascilo Perdure."

    "Lascilo Perdure" ("Leave It Alone" in Italian) is an ambitious, 40-minute exploration of letting go by seven dancers - including one of Ms. Barton's sisters, Charissa, though not Ms. Barton herself. (She does perform in "Mais We.")

    Set to Vivaldi and the Cracow Klezmer Band, "Lascilo" integrates enigmatic videos by Kevin Freeman with full-bodied movement, including a duet in which Banning Roberts grasps Éric Beauchesne's tongue with her teeth for four erotic and terrifying minutes.

    "Aszure is exploring most of the actual trends in dance, and she's integrating them into her work," said Mr. Beauchesne, a Montreal dancer who has worked with Ms. Barton for eight years.

    "It's definitely not on the path of contemporary dance that we see in France or Montreal."

    Ms. Barton developed "Lascilo" through improvisation and her dancers' journal entries.

    In one, her sister detailed a recurring nightmare in which she is underwater, unable to breathe until she stops struggling.

    Transformed from nightmare to fantasy by Mr. Freeman's camera, the dream comes to life in captivating black and white.

    Her eyes are open, calm.

    A small smile comes and goes, and air bubbles cluster on her eyelashes.

    She slowly moves her hand, pruning fingers curling in and out of camera's view.

    Next month, Ms. Barton heads to the Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia to work with the filmmaker Daniel Conrad, and she will participate in Dancenow/NYC at Dance Theater Workshop this fall.

    "I would love to work at P.S. 122, and I would love to work at City Center," she said.

    "I'm open to anything."

    Audiences, says Ms. Staff of Dancenow/NYC are open, too, though she acknowledges that "the avant-garde dance scene is still not quite sure" about Ms. Barton's choreography.

    David Dorfman, a downtown choreographer Ms. Barton cites as one of many influences, said it was too early to tell where she would end up.

    "If it were a game show and I had to pick, I'd say she's uptown," he said.

    "But I think that she can walk downtown, too - if she chooses."

July 26, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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