Aszure Barton: An Unstoppable Force in Contemporary Dance
by Grace Guest
April 19, 2021

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Aszure Barton. Photo by Sergio Parra.

It’s been 12 years since The National Ballet of Canada presented the world premiere of Aszure Barton’s Watch her. An excerpt of this rich and haunting work can be seen in our Trailblazers programme for Spotlight Series.

An ambassador of contemporary dance in Canada, Barton remains an unstoppable force in the field, with a career spanning nearly three decades. As a woman in the industry, she is paving the way for female artists and creators through powerful work and inspiring collaborations. Graduating from Canada’s National Ballet School in 1993, she went on to establish Aszure Barton & Artists just ten years later. The collective has found much success, producing innovative works that embody the community-driven spirit of the choreographer. In addition to being the first resident artist at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, under the Martha Duffy fellowship, she has created works for American Ballet Theatre, Teatro alla Scala, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, English National Ballet and Mikhail Baryshnikov himself. With such experience under her belt, the Edmonton-born artist continues to break boundaries with her work, creating opportunities for dancers to explore new modes of movement.

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Sonia Rodriguez and Artists of the Ballet in Watch her (2009). Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

During the pandemic, Barton has derived joy and gratitude from sifting through past works, archiving and sharing them on Instagram. The social platform has become a place of hope, a place to celebrate even the smallest moments. Delving into the creative process, Barton posts both rehearsals and different iterations of her latest projects. Stepping into her world, we see the objects, places and people that inspire her. For example, in snapshots from rehearsals for Come In, she applauds the dancers of Ballet am Rhein, who fill the photos with emotion. The impact of dance extends from their faces and fingertips. In a clip of Awàa, taken from rehearsals with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, both dancers wear masks. Shot in shades of grey, the movement feels potent and symbolic. We watch as one dancer elegantly drags his partner across the floor. Barton is coping with the pandemic, remembering the small victories, creating community through dance. Observing the many places and people she mentions on her platform, it becomes apparent just how many communities the choreographer has touched, taking up creative space all over the world.

Return to Patience, a 2016 collaboration with Julliard’s Dance Division, was scheduled to make its Chicago premiere during the first week of November. Now postponed, the short clips allow Barton’s followers to see 24 dancers float, crawl and burst across the stage. The soloists appear to be moving in slow motion, as if through water. In the moments of pause, when the ensemble stands still, we can imagine what it feels like to be sitting in the audience, waiting along with them. Together we wait for the dance, and for life, to recommence.

At a time where it is difficult to connect, and to take up physical space, Barton’s work and social presence speaks to the possibilities, and what awaits us beyond the horizon.

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Aszure Barton. Photo by Juliette Cervantes.

Watch Trailblazers

Trailblazers honours the work of Canadian innovators with excerpts from Guillaume Côté's moving collaboration with Robert Lepage, Frame by Frame, Aszure Barton’s mesmerizing ballet Watch her and Marie Chouinard’s refreshing 24 Preludes by Chopin.

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