In an artist of talent, confidence can be a very good thing. The sure creative hand of choreographer Aszure Barton is in evidence even before her latest show – Awáa – begins. A translucent scrim spanning the front of the stage greets audience members taking their seats. On it, a group of performers are projected pursing their lips in extreme close-up as if imitating fish. A soundscape of bubble and water noises and nonsensical vocalization plays quietly. You can tell by the quality of the sound and the images that what you’re about to see will have solid production values and an assured grasp of multimedia principles. And yet this isn’t a show about technology; it’s a show about the way people move and the very human emotional sources of that movement.
The show begins slowly – a red disk glows dimly on the back wall, resembling a daiko drum, or a low hanging sun. The movement of the opening solo and group dances for six men and a single woman is measured and the phrases have a ritualistic feel, almost like a tai chi sequence. Eventually, we start to see such things as Andrew Murdock’s languid arabesques penchées. Then the beautifully articulated steps and phrases from the classical ballet vocabulary in which Barton trained give way to a more tribal vibe and increasing pace. Clothes come off and the beautifully fit dancers remain half naked for most of the show.
Music drives this dance, much more than narrative or any other kind of theme or through-line. A mix of world beat, classical samples and electronic sounds with frequent audio effects (of water mostly) by composers Curtis Macdonald and Lev Zhurbin, the score is a wonder. This is a good thing because Barton’s vignettes hang together most casually, with an offhand synergy that I found charming but some might find unsatisfying.
Highlights of the dance for me included a trio in which Lara Barclay appears to be an extremely elegant mother crossing the stage in the company of two male dancers who resemble toddlers in their need to be periodically picked up or cajoled into action. Jonathan Alsbury performs a solo mincing high on his feet as if wearing very high heels. His arms are incredibly fluid, hands and fingers minutely articulate. In another great scene, Alsbury, William Briscoe and Davon Rainey express an energetic dance of ecstasy and revelation in a riff both on Brazilian beats and American gospel vernaculars. The dance switches in tone and vibe abruptly yet seamlessly, giving way to some remarkable projections of fabric, bubbles and bodies floating underwater. In the final scenes, there is a return to some of the movement and imagery seen earlier. The closing moments of the work follow a powerful solo by one of the men and then Barclay arrives to pick him up and carry him off like a child.
With Awáa, Barton is making a comment on mother’s love – she has said so in the press and the following quotation from nineteenth-century American preacher Edwin Hubbell Chapin appears on the back page of Awáa’s program notes:
“No language can express the power, and beauty, and heroism, and majesty of a mother’s love. It shrinks not where man cowers, and grows stronger Where man faints, and over wastes of worldly fortunes Sends the radiance of its quenchless fidelity like a star.”
But there seems to be an even broader feminist statement being made with Awáa. In Barton’s world of dramatic imagery and seductive masculinity, it’s woman (as repeatedly embodied by Barclay) who keeps it all together.
Check out our video blog featuring Aszure Barton & Artists