Aszure Barton on Busking and her Busy Year

Aszure Barton & Artists
Photo by Donald Lee
Courtesy of The Banff Centre

Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton is on one amazing career ride. Lucky for us, she’s stopping in Houston for a Society for the Performing Arts show at Cullen Theater next Friday. With commissions from American Ballet Theatre, The National Ballet of Canada and Juilliard this year, along with a major company tour, it’s been one busy year. In addition, her work graces the repertory of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Martha Graham Dance Company, Les Ballets jazz de Montreal and others. She’s also an artist-in-residence at The Banff Centre and The Baryshnikov Arts Center. She brings us into the whirlwind of her dance life below.

Dance Source Houston: Tell us about one of your newest dances, Busk. What does it have to do with busking, as in street performing?

Aszure Barton: We had this wonderful opportunity to spend a month creating a new work at the DanceWorks festival in Santa Barbara, California, which was fantastic. I didn’t exactly get there and think, “let’s do a piece about busking.” After I observed the environment, I started to ask a lot of questions about my place as an artist. Santa Barbara has this incredible dichotomy; there are extremely wealthy people along with many homeless Vietnam veterans. There’s also this bizarre street life there. I became intrigued with so many people living on the streets and many of them are in their 60s and 70s. I wasn’t trying to make a statement; it was more of an observation. Asking questions of where we fit in. The process brought up a lot of questions on what it means to be an artist.

DSH: How do you balance your time with Aszure & Artists with your commissions?

AB: My company is part-time and project-based, which works very well for me now. Houston is the end of a four month tour for us. We just got back from Moscow, which was so fun. It does work out if you create balance, but I had to learn the hard way. I took on four commissions, which I said I’d never do. I learned that was the limit for me. It was incredibly intense and I was happy with each one. Company and commissions feed each other.

DSH: When I first saw your work at around midnight, after clocking in some 25 hours of dance watching at APAP, my first thought was, “Let’s get this girl to Texas.” Perhaps it was because there’s such a sense of joy in your work, or that you encouraged the audience to hoot and holler.

AB: I have always wanted to go to Texas. I’m from Alberta so I’m a cowgirl. I am also excited to perform in the Cullen Theater, I’ve heard great things about the space; everyone who has been there has loved it.

DSH: Your work contains such sensual and complex movements, yet you often have a whole stage full of dancers moving in exact unison.

AB: I have always been fascinated with large groups and large numbers of people. I like seeing the stage from a wide perspective, like an organism. We create a collective language, it’s really symbiotic. It’s such a blessing to have 10 dancers with me. If I had more money, I would have even more. We are such a family and have such a good time.

DSH: Your career took off so quickly, Broadway, big commissions, a Dance Magazine cover story.

AB: It did. I still pinch myself. If your heart is in the right place things happen. I have been so lucky to be an artist-in-residence at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Their whole mission is so admirable. Misha is always looking for new artists and supporting upcoming actors, dancers, and musicians. It’s such a supportive environment to work in. That’s how I ended up choreographing Three Penny Opera. Scott Elliot came to watch a rehearsal and the next thing I knew I was choreographing a Broadway show.

DSH: The second half of the program is Blue Soup. What’s in the soup?

AB: It’s an assemblage of older and newer works. The thread is the power of sound in the body and music. I did the sound design myself.

DSH: What’s next?

AB: A new piece for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

DSH: What’s something we don’t know about you?

AB: My personality is incredibly unpredictable. I am either shy or outgoing. It’s always surprising me.

Society for the Performing Arts presents Aszure Barton & Artists on April 23, 8pm, Wortham Center’s Cullen Theater. Call 713-227-4772 or visit www.spahouston.org

Reprinted from DSH.

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