Barton's famously quirky, exuberant, often-humorous style is ideally showcased in Blue Soup. This collage of sections from her early work is performed to sound by Randy Newman, Maya Angelou, and a Bulgarian women's choir. Barton's choreographic sensibility is further enhanced by Burke Brown's lighting and the electric-blue suits created by Fritz Master.
Blue Soup focuses on certain signature gestures: low bounces and head-bobs, liquid undulations of the torso, unexpected yelps, and a waving hand paired with a toothy grin. Barton excels in making solos, and Blue Soup features several, including a dynamic sequence featuring Jonathan Emanuell Alsberry, and the initial segment, which Andrew Murdock dances with heartbreaking beauty.
Possibly because it was presented second, on Thursday night Barton's new work seemed less successful. While it also contains first-rate dancing, an evocative set, witty costumes, and dramatic lighting, Busk appeared slower and less powerful than it really was. It also seemed too similar to Blue Soup.
Like the earlier work, Busk stresses the wave/grin combo, rippling torsos, and abrupt screams. There are fabulous solos by Alsberry and Murdock, accompanied by another aural pastiche. What was distinctive, and exciting, about Busk was its underlying sense of melancholy as the black-clad buskers (street performers) slowly stretched out their palms or tilted their heads in sharp, birdlike motions.
To separate the segments of Busk, Tobin Del Cuore rode across the stage on a unicycle. This circus ethos was also evident when Emily Oldak casually placed one foot behind her neck, eliciting gasps from the audience. While impressive, this seemed like one time when Barton's keen theatrical intelligence failed her. Unlike the unicycle gag, Oldak's solo seemed too much like an acrobatic "trick."
2 and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St. Tickets: $24-$48.
Information: 215-898-3900 or www.annenbergcenter.org.