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Eye-opener: Aszure Barton.

All Up In Your Face
By Mae G. Banner

ASzURe & Artists

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, Mass., July 31, 2005

Just 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 at you”?

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 together seamlessly.

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.

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