Up In Your Face
Mae G. Banner
Pillow, Becket, Mass., July 31, 2005
when you think you’ve seen everything, comes a choreographer
whose work packs such a jolt that it knocks you off your seat.
That’s Aszure Barton. I’d never seen her dances, never even
heard of her, but here she was at Jacob’s Pillow’s small Doris
Duke Studio Theater, so I took a chance. My jaded eyes are
now open wide.
Barton, from Western Canada, founded ASzURe & Artists
in 2002. She brings creds from the National Ballet of Canada
and the theatrical Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, plus some
cool European companies. Her dancers—four women, three men—are
from Quebec, Taiwan, Harlem, and Nashville. They have strong
ballet technique, overlaid with a nasty sense of humor and
plenty of attitude. The women are drop-dead good-looking,
and the men have muscles carved like marble.
Two multi-part dances spoke equally to my brain and my gut.
Barton’s Lascilo Perdere (2005), set to lush vocal
and instrumental works by Vivaldi and one dark piece by the
Cracow Klezmer Band, was erotic, but pure.
Dancers in gorgeous black costumes by Deanna Berg performed
courtly figures of exquisite formality, but with a strong
hint of hidden, secret motives. Imagine Iago as a Renaissance
dancer, or the encounters and subterfuges of Dangerous
Liaisons played out without a word.
These dancers took their time to convey layers beneath the
cleanly-cut surface. They danced, not only with their bodies
but their hands and eyes. One repeated gesture: a dancer would
draw the back of his wrist across his opened mouth, seeming
to bite. Is there a Shakespearian threat, “I bite my wrist
Horizontal slices cut out of the women’s costumes at the waist
and vertical slits along the men’s chests were partly laced
with black ribbons, underscoring the idea of hidden motives
or repressed memories.
There were balletic lifts and attempts at lifts in which both
partners deliberately crashed. There was a long, transgressive
passage in which a woman grasped her partner’s extended tongue
with her teeth and locked on through turns and bends, embraces
and lifts, until she left him sinking slowly to his knees.
I thought, “Wouldn’t you like to try this at home?”
Interlaced with the dancers’ couplings were scenes from a
larger-than-life black-and-white film that showed a woman
in 19th-century dress opening, and finally, closing a door—but,
there were no walls. Other film clips showed extreme closeups
of the dancers, one seemingly under water, looking out calmly
at the human dance onstage before them. All this was intelligent
and exciting, formal and stirring in equal measure. When the
film’s door finally closed, and one dancer, Eric Beauchesne,
sat alone onstage, I wondered, “Was this a dream? Whose dream?”
The second dance, Mais We (2002) had more in common
with Les Ballets Jazz, who performed at the Egg earlier this
year. Barton picked from a pinata of world music, but judiciously.
Everything—Japanese Kodo drumming, Hungarian Gypsy music,
French pop songs, and Paul Simon’s “Pigs, Sheep and Wolves”—fit
The dancers began in hip cabaret clothes, black jackets without
shirts for the men. Acting as much as dancing, Beauchesne
gave us a knowing French smile, and a “come-on” wave of his
hand before disappearing into the mist that shrouded the stage.
A trio of women did tight steps to an Asian chant, their hands
in their pockets, each in her own space. Then, one by one,
they all walked off into the mist.
In a goofy section, five women in gorgeous bright-colored
beach tops and ankle pants, wiggled and gyrated. On one level,
they were dancing as if diving into a pool or stepping gingerly
on hot sand. On another, they looked like refugees from a
TV beer commercial. It was sexy, funny, and an ironic comment
on our body-centered culture. The women’s section was followed
by the three men in black bathing suits showing off their
toned bodies in detail. They did bumps and grinds, cobra dives
and ju jitsu moves.
Next, all the dancers did a pelvis-shaking walk in unison
to Paul Simon’s song, moving under red light and with fine
precision to Simon’s lines about animal behavior.
The dance, nine sections long, was a little overstuffed, but,
it ended well with a repeat appearance of the whole ensemble
in those black jackets and pants. They moved in formation
to a chant of Brazilian Indians until, like a global “ring
around the rosey,” they all fell down.