by Amin El Gamal
The sound of water gushing forms an infectious beat as a group of male dancers sways their hips. The dancers seem to encompass all and no genders, evoking both an ancient ritual and the sass of 90s voguing culture. This is the delicious world of renowned choreographer and dancer Aszure Barton. Her show Awáa will make its Los Angeles (and outdoor) debut at the Ford on August 18, presented in partnership with The Music Center On Location.
Awáa means “one who is a mother” in the language of the Haida, an indigenous people living on Canada’s west coast. The title encompasses the evening’s celebration of motherhood and creation. In addition to an ensemble of eight of the world’s finest dancers, there are also video elements and original scores from composers Lev Zhurbin and Curtis Robert Macdonald.
A native of Canada, Barton’s work has been seen from Broadway to Russia and most places in between. She has collaborated with the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and Martha Graham Dance Company, to name a few. Barton is a recent Los Angeles transplant and she was generous enough to chat with me about some of her inspirations for Awáa. Check out the full interview below:
What was your first inspiration for Awáa?
Aszure Barton: My choreography grows out of conversations with the artists with whom I am working. The seed for this particular work was planted when I spoke to one of my collaborators (a dancer) about his mother. This work celebrates her and all of our mothers. It celebrates life and what it means to be human.
It's been a few years since the show's inception. Has its meaning evolved or changed in the context of recent events?
Aszure Barton: The work is constantly evolving. This particular performance in LA is incredibly exciting as it is the first time we will perform it outside. It feels appropriate and will be a total adventure!
Can you share a story or moment from the process of creating Awáa?
Aszure Barton: A lot of the creation took place at The Banff Centre (in Alberta, Canada), courtesy of Kelly Robinson (former theater and program director at Banff). Early in the process, I had a vivid dream that was a direct response to the themes we had been exploring in the studio. In this dream, I was submerged in water while sitting in an old rocking chair. It was very powerful and I decided that I needed to recreate it with my team. I ran to Kelly's office and asked him if he would help in making it come to life. He was a total rock star in facilitating the space and my awesome collaborators were committed. Tobin de Cuore (dancer and videographer) led the way and captured some of the most beautiful underwater video footage I've ever seen. The ability to manifest this dream I had into reality fed the process and the visuals help carry us through the work.
What excites you most about presenting it on the Ford Amphitheatre stage?
Aszure Barton: The space is absolutely gorgeous and the setting is also very appropriate for the work. This is the first time my work is being seen in Hollywood, on a stage built into a canyon no less. Come on!
How did you first come to dance/choreography?
Aszure Barton: I am the youngest of three girls in my family. My mother is incredibly passionate about dance. She celebrates it and, through her, we all fell in love with dance. My father loves dancing too. I moved away from home at 14 to attend private ballet school and I started to create and present choreography publicly when I was about 15. I loved bringing my friends together and designing my own principles, I loved the freedom in being creative and I loved having a voice and still do.
What advice might you give a young artist?
Aszure Barton: You are capable of anything you can dream of, but no one is going to hand it to you. You need to build it yourself. So dream as hard as you're willing to work. Also, don't only watch dance on a screen. Dance is alive and needs to be experienced in real life.
Why should people come see Awáa?
Aszure Barton: To celebrate dance. To celebrate our mothers. To celebrate Mother Earth. To celebrate music. To celebrate being gay, straight, gender fluid; you. To celebrate being born. And to enjoy watching some of the most beautiful dancers/artists on the planet.
Aszure Barton’s Awáa performs on Friday, August 18 at 8:30 PM at the Ford Theatres. Tickets and info here.