Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 12:00 PM
Too many choreographers treat dancers as if they're robots, devoid of life or expression. Not Aszure Barton, who creates works that celebrate human qualities that every performer wishes to share.
Those qualities overflowed in the two pieces that Aszure Barton & Artists presented Saturday at the Ohio Theatre under the auspices of DanceCleveland and PlayhouseSquare. In its Cleveland debut, the New York dance company reveled in its artistic director's compelling amalgam more › of physicality and expressive truth.
It isn't often that an ensemble of dancers is allowed to so openly enjoy what they're performing, but Barton appears to be draw the best from her company by giving them material that communicates on many levels.
The Canadian choreographer does so to exuberant and sensuous effect in "Les Chambres de Jacques," Saturday's opening work, which begins with a male dancer in a long coat exploding in wild, quirky gyrations. He's soon joined by the eight other dancers onstage, dressed in a smorgasbord of contemporary and ballet costumes, who initiate a series of relationships.
The ensemble members engage in solos, duets and other combinations to music of Vivaldi, klezmer and Quebecois folk songs. Using a broad dance vocabulary, Barton keeps the action on fast forward, with the dancers occasionally laughing out loud, while also taking time to concentrate on intimate encounters performed to a sad ballad.
What makes "Les Chambres du Jacques" so enchanting and forceful is the outpouring of feeling Barton extracts from her dancers. There's plenty of whimsy to go around, including acrobatic hijinks, touching (and licking) of faces and a delirious hoedown. But Barton also emphasizes the torrid side of life and those moments when an ideal is unattainable.
The night's other work, "Busk," is another Barton brainstorm full of ingenious physicality and striking imagery. The title comes from the Spanish word "buscar," which translates to seek, and the episodes in this 45-minute narrative suggest the search for meaning, acceptance and fulfillment.
The denizens who take this journey include mimes, street performers, scantily clad maidens and an ensemble in black hoods that huddles together in mock reverence – with heads lit from above – or breaks apart to go thrusting in the air. It's a marvelously atmospheric and theatrical creation set to the gypsy-inflected music of Liova and the Kontraband and sacred choral works.
Typical for Barton, the material is endlessly inventive, intricate, robust and elastic. Dancers flail and soar, ride unicycles and juggle. A red-headed female bends herself in every direction. At the end, another female in white crawls offstage as a white feather drops slowly to the stage.
We may not always know exactly what Barton intends, but the freshness of her vision and polished gusto of her dancers keep our eyes glued to the stage and our minds poised to ponder her dynamic artistry.
RELATED COMPANY: Aszure Barton and Artists
Sunday, October 23rd, 2011 8:00 AM
Dance has been a constant source of family for Aszure Barton, the Canadian choreographer who is in demand in the worlds of modern dance, ballet and theater.
Barton's older sisters are dancers, "so when I came out of the womb I was automatically influenced by them," she said by phone last week from a tour stop in Utah. With her siblings, she invited friends over for the purpose of "building more › community and having a good time performing for parents."
The community that keeps her on her toes – and other parts of the anatomy – most often these days is Aszure Barton & Artists, the admired New York dance company she created in 2002. It makes a stop at the Ohio Theatre in PlayhouseSquare on Saturday to perform two of the choreographer's works under the auspices of DanceCleveland.
Barton, 36, was a teenager studying at the National Ballet School in Toronto when she and a friend talked the director into letting them start a choreographic workshop. After dancing with the National Ballet of Canada for two years, Barton headed to Europe to observe contemporary choreographers.
She danced with Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal as an apprentice before throwing caution to the winds and moving to New York. Amid babysitting and restaurant jobs, Barton met independent choreographers and began to build a community of dancers, visual artists, filmmakers and others, who urged her to start her own company. In 2002, she took the plunge, establishing Aszure Barton & Artists.
"I couldn't be more lucky," she said. "It's always a struggle financially, but that's why I choose to be a project-based company. I can do what I can do, booking dancers for a certain amount of time. I always have a solid base, a core group. The schedule is sometimes kooky, and I'm not employing them year-round. I definitely have to remain flexible."
The repertoire her company of 10 dancers – including her sister, Cherice – will perform this week in Cleveland reflects Barton's flexibility. To devise "Les Chambres de Jacques" (The Rooms of Jacques), the choreographer created simple tasks for the dancers and devised a series of pieces based on their personal experiences. It is set to French Quebecois folk music, klezmer and Vivaldi.
The work is "an overall picture of things that manifest in the heart," Barton said. "The capacity in which we can love is the bigger picture, and how it can enlighten and destroy, but in a bright way. It's super fun."
Barton explores the place of performers in the world in "Busk," whose title is drawn from the Spanish word "buscar," which means "to seek." The piece, danced to music by Lev Zhurbin, Moondog and Swedish choral works, came to life while Barton's company was working in Santa Barbara on a co-commission for DANCEworks, the Baryshnikov Arts Center and the Banff Centre.
"I was struck by the social differences," said Barton. "[Santa Barbara] is so vibrant and there's so much wealth, but there's also a surprising and startling amount of street life. The environment definitely affects the work. Where do we fit into this picture? I've seen beautiful people performing on the street."
Barton has made pieces for everyone from dance icons to theater and pop-music stars. She created "Come In" in 2007 for Mikhail Baryshnikov, her mentor, and 13 young dancers. A year before, she choreographed the Broadway production of "The Threepenny Opera" at Studio 54 featuring Alan Cumming, Cyndi Laufer, Jim Dale and an ensemble of drag queens.
"They were such an eclectic and interesting group of people," Barton said. "It was a wonderful, crazy experience."
RELATED COMPANY: Aszure Barton and Artists
Wednesday, October 19th, 2011 12:00 PM
Don't miss your chance to learn from innovative choreographer Aszure Barton!
Aszure Barton Master Class
Saturday, October 29th
Green Rehearsal Hall
DANCECleveland and PlayhouseSquare invite pre-professional and professional dancers to a free contemporary technique master class led by Aszure Barton and Artists.
About Aszure Barton: Mikhail Baryshnikov protégé Aszure Barton has a distinguished reputation for producing striking choreography for stage and film. Barton has developed highly regarded productions on four continents. She has more › performed with many celebrated artists and companies and has created works for Baryshnikov, The National Ballet of Canada, Nederlands Dans Theater, American Ballet Theatre, Sydney Dance Company, The Martha Graham Dance Company and Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, where she was the resident choreographer from 2005 to 2008.
Space is limited!
Class runs from 11:00am - 12:30pm. Please arrive no later than 10:45am.
RSVP to Lynn Deering at email@example.com
Enter through the State Theatre Stage Door, 1650 Chester Ave., Cleveland, Ohio 44114
The entrance faces the Hermit Club and is across the street from the Greyhound Bus Station parking lot.
About the Company: Aszure Barton and Artists make their Ohio debut on Saturday, October 29 at 8:00pm at the Ohio Theatre at PlayhouseSquare. The company will perform Les Chambres des Jacques (Jack in the Box). Originally created for Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, it is a work full of surprise and humor danced to the music of Vivaldi and The Cracow Klezmer Band. They will also perform Barton's critically-acclaimed Busk, a fascinating work that explores aspects of what it means to perform. Set to thrilling Gypsy and choral music, Busk features engaging solos contrasted with powerful, unison group dance. Busk combines street performers with hooded monks, Swedish chants and acrobatics to create a witty, lively, highly original evening of dance.
Tickets are still available at playhousesquare.org or 216-241-6000. For more info, visit dancecleveland.org.
Wednesday, October 5th, 2011 4:00 PM
Dinosaur Runs Amok!
Momix Dazzles at E J Thomas
We drove down to Akron's E. J. Thomas Hall last Saturday night to see modern dance company Momix perform their latest, Botanica, an exuberant exploration of the world of plants.
Momix Artistic Director, Moses Pendleton, has (ahem) deep roots in the world of agriculture. He grew up on a farm and had his "first performing experience showing Holstein-Friesians at county fairs." When he and more › his jock buddies, among them Robby Barnett and Jonathan Wolken, teamed up with Alison Chase to form Pilobolus in 1971 they named it after " a sun-loving fungus" that grows on cow manure. When Pendleton broke off to form a company of his own in 1981, he named it after a milk replacer for baby calves, Momix.
Pendleton and his company of - not dancers but - "dancer-illusionists" are past masters of the special effect. Cleveland dance audiences will remember Momix's most recent visit to Cleveland in 2007, Lunar Sea.
Like Lunar Sea, Botanica deploys an awesome array of illusions, images and novelties.
As the curtain goes up, the Botanica program note calls for a winter landscape so we see the stage covered with a white cloth, lit to look very like an exquisitely beautiful snowy field at twilight. Wind machines offstage animate the cloth so that it takes on the compelling appearance of wind blowing off snowdrifts. Dancers under the cloth push their faces against the elastic cloth, thus personifying the plants described so poetically by Maurice Maeterlinck in The Intelligence of Flowers, quoted in the Botanica program.
"The plant strains its whole being in one single plan: to escape above ground from the fatality below…to enter a moving, animated world."
The images that follow are seldom so poetic nor so clearly in service of the theme. What we get is a kind of new vaudeville, a succession of exquisitely realized short entertainments organized (very) loosely around the theme of plants in the 4 seasons.
Entertaining? Botanica definitely is. Deep meaning? Not so much.
A solo dancer does a pas de deux with her reflection on a mirrored ramp, vividly lit and visually fascinating. We look forward to seeing the inevitable rush of copycats; this seemingly simple stunt is probably not as easily realized as it looks.
A woman enters riding astride a full-sized triceratops skeleton. The dinosaur is an exquisitely realized puppet, cunningly animated by a single dancer inside to create the compelling illusion of a responsive, affectionate beast.
Dancer biographies and bits of Botanica choreography suggest that this group of Momix dancers is surprisingly interested in and good at ballet. During a black light show 3 dancers create the illusion of one dancer who performs ballet leaps in slow motion. In another scene 5 men depict bumblebees (wasps? yellow jackets?) with scintillating wings like bodyblades; their dance shows off their pirouettes and air tours. The legs that we see extending below Botanica's giant sunflowers and ultra poofie orange tutus are taut and well-schooled ballet dancer legs; Pavlova, who depicted a flower in at least one of her dances, would have approved.
Also surprising, the Pilobolus style partnering we expected to see was not much in evidence.
Part Two after the intermission has a lot of turning. In one solo, more dervish dance than ballet, the dancer spins continuously for about 5 minutes, sending the body tent she's draped in out to a fully horizontal plane at her neck. Again, the light on the moving costume makes for an exquisite effect.
After 110 minutes of Botanica, the score for exquisitely realized theatrical effects was OFF THE EVERLOVIN CHARTS.
Deep meaning and poetic resonance were less in evidence. For those values and Pilobolus-style partnering, our readers would do well to look to Cleveland's own Pilobolus exponent, Inlet Dance Theatre.
In DanceCleveland's next offering, Aszure Barton and Artists perform Busk at 8pm Sat 10/29/11 at the Ohio Theatre. Tickets $45 – $20. Phone 216-241-6000 or click (here.)
A joint presentation of DanceCleveland, The University of Akron's Dance Program, and E.J. Thomas Hall, Momix was performed at EJ Thomas Hall on Saturday 10/1/11.
Victor Lucas and Elsa Johnson
RELATED COMPANY: MOMIX
Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 12:00 PM
There are many moments during "Botanica," the evening-length work performed by the dance company Momix, when the stage pictures trick and dazzle your eyes. Even though you know humans are manipulating the puppets, props and costumes at their command, the images evoke a sense of wonder.
The arresting visual aspects of "Botanica" were on bountiful display Saturday at Akron's E.J. Thomas Hall, where the company of dancer-illusionists performed its lush production more › under the auspices of the hall, DanceCleveland and the University of Akron's Dance Program.
Momix has specialized in inventive mixes of dance and images since 1981, when Moses Pendleton left the contemporary dance company Pilobolus to unleash his own, fertile imagination. In addition to transformative physical attributes made popular by Pilobolus, Momix embraces ingredients from the realms of art, theater and cinema.
In conceiving "Botanica," Pendelton and his resourceful team of collaborators took inspiration from a quote by Belgian poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, who wrote of a plant's need "to approach another kingdom, to enter a moving, animated world."
An ode to the seasons, "Botanica" enters these worlds with alacrity, depicting various forces of nature in scenes that unfold in mysterious and often magical ways. An enormous dinosaur skeleton spits out a female and then swallows her. Birds sail across the stage, propelled by roller skates. Video projections mirror onstage activity, doubling the intriguing meeting of bodies and paraphernalia.
The marvelous dancers of Momix are called upon to negotiate all sorts of intricate assignments, many while hidden beneath billowing fabric, dressed as flowers that bloom before our eyes or, in one of the most dazzling sequences, connected to one another as centaurs on the frisky loose.
Part of the delight of watching "Botanica" is trying to decipher the methods used to achieve the effects. Only after the dancers break through those fluttering waves, for instance, do we realize how much they've contributed to the imagery. Numerous other extraordinary feats of design and motion pique our curiosity.
But "Botanica" doesn't always deliver once the processes are revealed. As the fragmented scenes – most set to eerie and hypnotic New Age music – continue the journey, choreography only occasionally occupies center stage. The production's ingenious amalgam of costumes, lighting and videos tends to dwarf the dance element, despite the polish and energy the 10 Momix members lavish on the piece.
Enough of "Botanica" is striking that it's possible to surrender to the luxurious garden of theatrical creativity without bemoaning the dearth of significant choreographic material. When the high-energy Momix dancers return to the stage at evening's end flapping long orange appendages, like virtuoso arachnids, we feel the excitement of entering Maeterlinck's animated world.
RELATED COMPANY: MOMIX