in motion: ASzURe & Artists.
Mae G. Banner
Pillow, Becket, Mass., July 2
too soon to guess whether Aszure Barton’s daring and slightly
nasty dances will become timeless, but they certainly are
of our time. The young Canadian choreographer and her good-looking,
sleekly-trained troupe ASzURe & Artists returned to Jacob’s
Pillow last week and took up where they left off last summer,
with dances that veered from portraits of extreme urban isolation
to an elaboration of 2005’s Lascilo Perdere, subtitled
“A journey of letting go.”
Isolation, first. Over/Come (2006) and Short-Lived,
Movement I (2006) shared a depiction of blasé, but needy
individuals alone in the crowd. The full troupe of 10 danced
Over/Come, filling the stage of the Doris Duke Theater,
which looks like a huge gym floor with the audience on risers.
Dressed in voguish sportswear in a palette of red, white,
black, and blue denim, each dancer jerked and spasmed in a
space of their own to a collage of kitschy pop songs in English,
French, or Spanish.
At random moments, a dancer would approach another in a flirty
way, maybe even go for a sudden kiss. Whatever the action,
the bold one would be rebuffed, or, barring that, she/he would
turn on one heel and stride away, before the anticipated rejection
came. The attitude throughout was aggressiveness/wariness—the
de-meanor of a downtown city street.
One tango-like duet in the dark lasted a few seconds extra,
as did a woman’s solo to the ironically titled, Are You
Sincere? But, soon enough, it was back to on-their-own
moves: defiant, speedy, wrecked, slouching, staring, grappling,
all marked by silent screams. At the end, all 10 were flat
on their backs, still alone, their diaphragms fluttering.
was set to amazingly beautiful music by the Cracow Klezmer
Band, whose instruments included the dumbek, deep-toned fiddles,
and a dark horn that was miles from the familiar clarinet.
To this tango-like music, a quartet of dancers did sliding
steps or rose to a balletic half-toe. There was nothing folky
about the music or the dance.
In the main motif, a man lifted another man in front of his
body like a puppet. The lifted one tilted his head and joined
his palms in prayer, the picture of a Medieval Christ figure.
There followed a male solo to Baroque music. The dancer’s
torso moved in staccato thrusts, while his arms described
lovely flowing figures in the air and his feet moved in small,
confined ballet steps.
Barton’s dances emphasized exertion and daring, stretching
the dancers to their limits. The audience loved it.
Perdere left downtown rejections for the dangerous liaisons
of Renaissance France. The ensemble, in elegant black, performed
courtly figures with flourishes of pointed toes and fingers,
making calligraphic serifs with a leg bent out to the side.
Sometimes, the cold-eyed women kept their hands clasped chastely
at their waists or shoulders as if guarding against emotional
invasion. The feeling was at once erotic and off-putting,
with a strong suggestion of Machiavellian villainy just beneath
the mannered surface.
The tongue-locked duet from last year is longer and more staggeringly
erotic than before, a choreographic tour de force that’s equally
demanding of the dancers and the audience.
All Barton’s dancers are gorgeous, but those who took outstanding
roles on Sunday were the “tongue” duet, Eric Beauchesne and
Ariel Freedman, and the perfectly-attuned Baroque stylist
William Briscoe. They danced with their evil eyes as well
as their sweat-glazed bodies.
Limon Dance Company
Pillow, Becket, Mass., July 9
When the Limon company dances, the center holds. This is so,
whether it’s a solo or an ensemble dance. Even when the ensemble
angles off into couples or quartets, the invisible center
draws them like a magnet, grounding their most far-flung forays.
On tour for their 60th anniversary (it’s also the 60th anniversary
of the late Jose Limon’s first performance at Jacob’s Pillow),
the 12-member company danced a perfectly balanced program
of group and solo works that spanned a period from 1951 to
2005. Only one, A Choreographic Offering (1964) was
choreographed by Limon—his homage to his early teacher and
associate Doris Humphrey. Yet, the other dances all sprang
from the Limon aesthetic of communality and humanism that
artistic director Carla Maxwell honors as she preserves and
adds to the company’s repertoire.
Choreographic Offering, presented as the heart of the
program, was transparent as a clear pool. The dancers, in
simple costumes of mauve and plum, went around in a circle,
leaning in and out as if propelled by centrifugal or centripetal
force. The circle broke into lifts and falls, or into lines
of dancers with hands enchained, who traveled around the known
center like spokes of a wheel.
There was a folk-like, but elegiac passage when a cadre of
men lifted the serene Roxanne Dorland Juste straight up like
a wooden saint in a procession. Then, the men made a stepped
bridge of their curved backs, and she walked up and up the
endless bridge, all the way into the wings and an imagined
In this dance to Bach’s music, no movement was extreme, but
the effect was full. One small example: a dancer executed
the balletic cou de pied in which one lifted heel touches
the ankle of the other foot; but, in Limon’s dance, she flexed
the lifted foot, so the movement looked elegant, yet blunt
The dancers smiled throughout—D’Orleans Juste beamed—projecting
a sense of how privileged they must feel to perform this work.
The program opened with Jiri Kylian’s Evening Songs
(1987) made for his Nederlands Dans Theater and set to vocal
music by Dvorak. Three couples and a solo woman (D’Orleans
Juste) step through simple, formal patterns in which they
might be peasants quietly celebrating the end of a work day.
Three women met and dipped their heads beneath the garlands
of each other’s arms; three men each extended an arm to clasp
together in the center like a horizontal Y; then, the trio
turned like a winch. As couples, they were courteous and careful
with each other, moving with simple dignity.
Two solos followed: Daniel Nagrin’s Dance in the Sun
(1951), performed with athletic spirituality by Raphael Boumaila;
and Donald McKayle’s Angelitos Negros (1972) to Roberta
Flack’s soulful challenge, danced with controlled fervor by
D’Orleans Juste, who has been with the Limon company for 23
Both solos expressed Latin American themes and rhythms. Boumaila,
barefoot, dropped his white cotton jacket, so we could see
his torso undulate to percussive piano music. Angled jumps
and lunges alternated with expansive circles around the stage
and prayerful still moments when he stretched his curved arms
upward. At the end, he picked up his jacket and walked off,
tempering the sublime with the reality of daily life.
D’Orleans Juste always is sublime, whatever she’s dancing.
She began Angelitos in a severe, vibrant flamenco posture,
her wrists crossed above her head to form a mantilla comb,
her bare toes gripping the floor. Above her long, ruffled
flamenco skirt, her bare midriff pulsated. Every shudder of
her hips, every ripple of each vertebra was clear. She raised
her fists or beat her hands in anger and a proud plea to the
painter of Flack’s song: “Aunque la virgen sea blanca, pintame
angelitos negros,” and finished with an endless churning of
her body, a swirling of her skirts.
The final dance was Lar Lubovitch’s Recordare (remember),
the company’s gift to itself on their 60th anniversary. Set
to music by Elliot Goldenthal, Recordare is a funny-scary
set of vignettes like the retablos of little figures and mementos
that Mexicans display on the Day of the Dead.
A dancing Death—a skeleton in black tights and skull mask—was
the master of ceremonies who cavorted with frightened maidens
or bereaved wives. Decked out like the pop Madonna with cones
for breasts, he seduced a drunken caballero in a lurching
duet. Wild as any Halloween monster, he brought out a big-bellied
red Devil in feathered cape and horned hood, who led the corps
in a twisting, snaky line, their heads wagging and their arms
and elbows jutting extravagantly to mad, bombastic music,
some of it quoted from the Devil’s Dance in Stravinsky’s The
The costumes—lots of skulls, lots of outsized flowers—by Anne
Hould Ward and the stage design with gilded proscenium, black
coffin and rough wooden cross by Ken Foy were wonderfully
theatrical. Recordare is a decorative contrast to the
almost austere look of many Limon dances, but it shares with
them the expressive quality and the respect for the lives
of plain people that make the Limon repertory timeless.