Review of Aszure Barton’s BUSK

Here’s a review from January’s Dance Magazine of Aszure Barton’s BUSK, which began at Aszure’s 2009 DANCEworks residency.

Aszure & Artists
Mertz Theatre
Sarasota, FL
October 8–10, 2009

Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

Busk. What a great title for Aszure Barton’s spanking new ensemble dance, a world premiere at the inaugural season of the five-day Ringling International Arts Festival in Sarasota, FL, co-presented by the Baryshnikov Arts Center and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. I can just imagine the gifted Canadian choreographer mulling over this commission, licking her chops, thinking about all the things buskers—street performers—do to lure audiences and earn a little cash.

Wikipedia spells it out: acrobatics, animal tricks, balloon twisting, card tricks, clowning, comedy, contortions and escapes, dance, fire eating, fortune-telling, juggling, magic, mime and a mime variation where the artist performs as a living statue, musical performance, puppeteering, snake charming, storytelling or reciting poetry or prose as a bard, street art (sketching and painting, etc.), street theater, sword swallowing, or even a flea circus. And, let me tell you, that’s just the brilliant opening solo danced by Kyle Robinson, who looks like a young Brad Pitt.

The notion of entertainment to charm a distractable, fickle public—and of entertainment as survival strategy, with performers at the edge of desperation—seems right for our times and especially right for Barton. (It also links in, in its funny way, with the Ringling circus tradition.) Championed early in her career by Baryshnikov, Barton has made works that combine popular accessibility and melancholic darkness in equal measures. And she regularly treats her “pitch”—the busker’s territory—as a gallery for monumental kinetic art.

It is no different in this mysterious new abstract piece where, as is Barton’s way, costumes merely offer hints of narrative possibilities. Huddling dancers in dark hoodies, in one section, could signal everything from homeless street kids to a death-spooky group of monks, but no matter. We’re not meant to hold onto any identification long enough to pin it down.

Dancers’ bodies move like bold splashes of paint, match the slippery suppleness of clay, shimmer and resonate like stringed instruments, sing in overtones, and emote in a multitude of tongues. Today, many dance artists collaborate widely and consider their productions to be multidisciplinary. Barton—with an assist from her dancers, among the most magnetic and psychologically expressive performers onstage today—delivers the multidisciplinary, and multivalent, body.

A dancer’s long frame undulating, while one hand—adjoined to and splaying out from a hip—wriggles like a sea anemone, is at once human, not quite human, and a collective of humans, or perhaps a collage of human experience. Barton, who famously builds on each of her dancer’s individual strengths, also seems quite confident and happy deploying a large group across sizable space. It’s amusing to realize that she can sneakily multiply a group even further by turning each one into many. This busker gives plenty of value for your money.

Busk is set primarily to gypsy music by Lev ‘Ljova’ Zhurbin. Nicole Pearce’s hazy lighting provides good atmosphere. Costumes are by Michelle Jank and projected visuals by Kevin Freeman and Shannon DMOTE Peel. Besides the stunning Mr. Robinson, Barton’s laudable corps includes Jonathan Alsberry, Collin Baja, Charlaine Katsuyoshi, Andrew Murdock, Reed Luplau, Emily Oldak, Banning Roberts, and Cynthia Salgado.

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