In late March, I went to a performance by ‘Aszure Barton and Artists’.
The first thing I would like to say is that I had never heard of her before, which is sad for me since I am pretending to be up on the dance scene and she’s pretty famous in New York (which will be my hood in twelve hours!).
It is my advice to all artists beginning a company to name your troup after yourself, as Barton has done. It makes it much harder to forget the choreographer/ director’s name. For instance, the rave review I gave of the piece ‘Forbidden Boundaries’ in my first post would have been incomplete if I wasn’t a junk-hoarder and saved the program. I had to look up the choreographers name. (Frank Chaves..I think. Can I just say the guy in charge of Rivr North Chicago Dance?)
Anyways, it was a performance of two acts, one super long piece the first act (Busk) and another super long piece for the second (Blue Soup). Both were amazing; cutting-edge, intricate choreography that surprised and delighted. These dancers were a choreographers dream, they could do everything. They were all flexible, strong, fearless, funny, grounded, lyrical, dynamic..the list goes on but my prowess of the English language does not. You get the gist. If she could dream it, they could do it. So there is nothing critical to say about these dancers. (She did seem to have her pick of the litter from classmates at Juilliard, so there you go.)
Aszure Barton has been hailed as prolific. I have no qualms with calling her a genius. Her choreography was set to a diverse range of music; Kodo drums, Yann Tiersen, Paul Simon, readings from Maya Angelou are a few examples. Talking to my Mom after the show, I said it was the kind of choreography I would like to create to which she replied, “Is it also the kind you would like to dance?”
I’m guessing she asked that because though a strong classical modern and ballet training was evident in every dancer, there were often times that what they were doing didn’t register in my technical vocabulary, and my background is almost strictly classical. Some of it was unclassified, but I wouldn’t call it ‘primitive’ or ‘acrobatic’. I can only describe it as movement. These sections were usually done in groups, the solos relied more heavily on things I could identify in dance terminology. Dancing all together, there were moments in ‘Busk’ (which had a little bit of a French Mime feel to it- really, there were even gloves and exaggerated hand gestures) that reminded me of one of my favorite pieces, ‘The Green Table’ (Choreography by Kurt Joos, if I’m spelling that right. Again, if he called it ‘Kurt Joss’ piece’ I would probably remember better) not only because of the white gloves worn by the masked men representing politicians in the first and last movement, but because of the movement quality- slightly aloof, gestural, and playful.
Here’s a sample- enjoy! I know I did!
‘Blue Soup’, on the other hand, was more aggressive. There were times when they reminded me of the dancers of ‘Cedar lake Dance Company’ (arguably one of the best in the U.S.) and then of the chimney sweepers in ‘Mary Poppins’ (because they are funny, fearless, and skilled all at once, not because they are dirty.)
I read an article about the first performance of Nijinksy’s “Rite of Spring’, a sort-of ballet set to a Stravisnky score (the dinosaur/ beginning of the earth part of Fantasia if that helps). The famous critic, editor, and novelist Jacques Riviereon praised it for its innovation because he says it was impossible to find any derivation, or reliance of artiface in dance. He got that right, there was definitely nothing like it. While choreographers were pushing the boundaries of ballet past the tried-and-true patterns and steps and departing from pretty stories as libretto, ‘Rite of Spring’ has very little plot. Simply, it is a the sacrifice of a young girl (kind of like King Kong, but without the big monkey, and with a volcano in the original instead). Innovation is all well and god, but honestly, I think the piece stinks. First of all, everyone looks like burlap-covered wizards. The costumes are ridiculous. Secondly, half the movement looks like what I imagine it looks like when someone thrown their back out. And then there’s a lot of stamping and jumping. The music is incredibly complex, so the piece is actually really difficult to execute as a group, but as my blog is titled ‘bodies never lie’, I never will either in my opinion or response- and my response was to laugh out loud at these hat-bedecked cronies spasming about.
(Here is the Joffrey Ballet’s recreation of the ‘classic’- skip ahead to about 2:35 unless you want to hear the music)
Would I like to dance this one, Mom? easy answer. No. Unless I get to be one of the guys with the afros and the funny hats.
Does pushing a boundary mean not relying on anything from the past?
Does it detract at all from the power of Barton’s beautiful show that Her work called to mind other works- even if they are favorites of mine? (Cedar Lake, Green Table, and Mary Poppins).
Where is the distinction between ‘great art’ and ‘prolific art’? Does the best art make you think of other enjoyable experiences, emotions, memories? Or is the best art the stuff that is unlike any other?
I don’t know if the Aszure Barton and Artists show was the newest thing I’ve ever seen, but I would definitely see it again.