No tutus for this

Aszure Barton & Artists performing "Busk," which is on the program for their Philadelphia debut, along with Barton's more successful "Blue Soup."
Aszure Barton & Artists performing "Busk," which is on the program for their Philadelphia debut, along with Barton's more successful "Blue Soup." (VLADIMIR FEDORENKO)

stellar ballet troupe

Posted: May 07, 2011

Her artistic pedigree is as stellar as her first name is startling. Aszure Barton, a dancer/choreographer from Edmonton, Alberta, has performed with the National Ballet of Canada, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, and her mentor, Mikhail Baryshnikov. Her choreography has been shown on six continents, and she has created dance for Broadway (The Threepenny Opera) and film. To see why her work is in such demand, catch one of the final performances of Aszure Barton & Artists in their Philadelphia debut at the Annenberg Center.

Barton does "contemporary ballet." So nobody wears tutus, and many of the movements look suspiciously like modern dance. Luckily, all nine performers (including Barton) are versatile virtuosos, as is evident from both pieces on the bill.

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."


Additional performances:
2 and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St. Tickets: $24-$48.

Information: 215-898-3900 or www.annenbergcenter.org.

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