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Don Rosenberg  |  October 23, 2011

Choreographer Aszure Barton brings her company to Cleveland

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 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."

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