Aszure Barton is a choreographer who has made works for Mikhail Baryshnikov, English National Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, just to name a few. Throughout more than two decades of choreographing, she has found her process and approach to creating mature into something that is good for her mind, body and soul.
As a well sought-after choreographer, Barton is indeed well traveled. This year, she has been busy trekking across the country, from New York City to Los Angeles, creating works and setting pieces on world-renowned companies.
Just this summer, Barton was invited to set a piece on Houston Ballet for its 2018/19 season. “It’s wonderful,” she says of the experience. “Stanton [Welch] is great, he gives you full reign. He says, ‘Welcome, do what you want.’ It’s nice to have that artistic freedom.” Barton is no stranger to Houston Ballet; she created a piece on the company in 2012, called Angular Momentum.
“To be invited back with an existing work [Come In] is a different experience but also really satisfying,” Barton shares. “Come In is a piece I made for Misha [Mikhail Baryshnikov] and dancers years ago, in 2006. I thought after that the work should rest for a while. I wanted to contemplate it. I wasn’t sure if it was specific to that time or if it should be kept in a little box. I often do that with pieces, put them to rest for a bit while I process and then pull them out and analyze them.”
She continues, “I thought a lot about the dancers in Houston Ballet because they are such a versatile group. They are movers, with form, impulse, and they are really strong. And they are also okay with stillness. There are some seasoned dancers in the company who have the ability to sit and stand in stillness, and that is essential to the work.”
The Houston Ballet premiere of Come In is set for March 21-24, 2019, in a powerhouse bill alongside Dream Time by Jiří Kylián and a new work from Justin Peck.
“It should be nice,” says Barton. “We are all musically driven, but we all have very different ways of hearing that music.”
From Houston to L.A., Barton’s piece, Les Chambres des Jacques (created in 2006), was recently taken out of her “box” and made its Los Angeles Ballet premiere in October. “I am very thoughtful when I choose dances,” Barton explains. “It was one I definitely wanted to revisit and take out of the box. It is so wonderful that I can do that. It makes the work better and helps you understand it more. It can be really challenging to do, but I think it’s really important.”
It is clear that Barton is thoughtful in all of her choices as a creator. Her process is not simply about making a dance piece but also about growth and examining where she was when she created the work and where the work can go. “Dance is in motion always,” she notes. “There is room for a piece to grow, evolve and change.”
Barton’s award-winning choreography and considerate way of creating has made her a valuable asset to the pre-professional dance world as well. In June, she was named an Artist in Residence at University of Southern California (USC) Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
“It will be a new experience,” she says. “I’ve worked with Juilliard a lot, but that was always creating work or staging work. It wasn’t faculty or artist in residence position. It’s exciting to be part of a growing program. Young dancers are really awesome. They are all so hyper talented and curious. They’re the ones who are going to be hiring us in the future, you know?” Barton is looking forward to working with such a talented group of students, and speaks to the diversity of the program. “The language of their bodies and their training are all-different. Some are coming from hip hop, street. These dancers are convening to explore what is possible in the future, and I think that is what’s so exciting about it.”
She continues, “At this moment, there is a bubbling over of things. I think what will be interesting is keeping the foundation of technique and training that is fundamental, in my perspective, fundamental for a solid dancer. It can be easy to forget the importance of the things that came before us. It’s a balancing act that I feel will be successful. At USC, I will learn. I am looking forward to being there. It’s incredible and inevitable to be inspired by them. They are full of so much energy; it’s an intoxicating, sweet, ambitious group of people.”
In speaking with Barton, you realize she has a kind of quiet power to her, a peacefulness that has been sustained through practice. Although she is quite busy, she has learned to take time for herself and family. “My move to the west coast was one to be closer to family. My sisters are here, but also to create a space, a mental space, that would allow me time to take care of myself, and it has been the greatest.”
She adds, “Creating a little more physical space around me has allowed my mind to have some breath and ease, and I have so much more mental space, less anxiety.” She attributes this shift in priorities to this wisdom and good advice of a colleague. “I was lectured by an experienced choreographer many months ago, and he said to me, ‘You’re really going to regret 30 years from now if you don’t take care of yourself.’”
You can get the latest updates on what Aszure Barton and her company are working on at www.aszurebarton.com.
By Chelsea Zibolsky of Dance Informa.