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Aszure Barton & Artists

June 9, 2012

Aszure Barton, Photograph by Graeme Mitchell

Awáa: Project XII

Reviewed June 8, 2012

NAC Theatre, Ottawa

(Canada Dance Festival 2012 opener)

Images of close-up faces making fish-like movements are projected on the curtain before show opening, giving a sense of being in a fishbowl. This same curiosity of expression and humour weaves its way through Aszure Barton’s 75-minute world premiere, which opened the Canada Dance Festival in the NAC Theatre Friday.

The audience was on the sparse side, but those who attended loved this performance created by the bold and quirky Barton. While Barton lives and works in New York City, she was born and raised in Canada and trained at the National Ballet School in Toronto. She is an artist-in-residence at The Banff Centre, where the choreography and sound score for Project XII were created.

Commissioned by the Canada Dance Festival, Project XII features seven internationally acclaimed dance artists whose discipline and quality training shine through in this work.

Certainly, its newness also shines through to some extent. It lacks cohesion and seems overly experimental, particularly as it progresses. On the other hand, it showcases Barton’s unique perspective of human physicality and fearless artistry.

The presentation, which is really a series of vignettes and movements woven together, opens with a single dancer silhouetted in front of a large, human-sized red ball, lit from within. The rest of the stage is dark and the figure moves haltingly and awkwardly, like an emerging creature, eventually crawling underneath the black scrim that separates audience from performance.

Six dancers (one woman, five men) emerge from the wings and move like miniature creatures or simple biological life forms, in unison, and as if propelled by water or air. Often, movement is floor-bound or consists of the dancers dragging their lifeless lower limbs across the stage.

Burke Brown’s lighting is sharp and Curtis MacDonald and Lev (Ljova) Zhurbin’s original music sombre against the dancers’ contrived, calculated movements. Limbs, heads, trunks are isolated and supple, driven by external forces. While they move dynamically through emptiness, there is always a sense they are navigating through something palpable. This is the adhesive theme that runs through the work, and yet the individual artists also impart their unique interpretive styles in solos, duets and trios.

Overall, Project XII speaks of awakening, awareness of self, growth, motherhood, love and harmony with others. All this results in a presentation that is sad, happy, funny, mesmerizing, picturesque, aesthetically beautiful to behold and curiously inspiring.

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