Letting it All Hang Out

ASzURe & Artists

At Center Stage Theater, Wednesday, July 26 and Saturday, July 29.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer

I had a hunch that this was a company whose masterclass I should take if I were reviewing their performance. Aszure’s teaching, like her choreography and her dancing, is fearless. She’s a risk taker and a speaker of truths — whether they’re convenient or not. “You were holding on to that moment,” she told one dancer in Saturday’s class. “Let it go — just let it all out.”

No coincidence, then, that her 2005 work Lascilo Perdere is subtitled A Journey of Letting Go. It isn’t really that letting go is a new concept in dance or in art; Barton and her fellow artists just do it so well that the audience gets it.

Lascilo is a big piece tackling big stuff: intimacy, sex, violence, loss. It’s like the dance equivalent of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delight: full of sinful pleasures, ludicrous and haunting. When Ariel Freedman took Eric Beauchesne’s tongue between her teeth and proceeded to lead him slowly and relentlessly across the stage, she committed her audience as well as her partner to walking that tender line between intimacy and discomfort.

It’s exactly this kind of unbuttoning of pent-up desire, anger, and downright silliness that turns Barton on. “Are you sin-cere?” crooned Andy Williams in the retro-pop score of Over/Come. While dancers flirted and pranced center stage, one man stood pinning a woman up against a far wall, his hand clutching at her breast while her feet dangled impassively above the floor. Later he released her and she began to move freely, only to find herself the center of a fishbowl gaze, a circle of dancers watching in silence as she shifted from self-conscious posturing to sexually explicit writhing to desperate thrashing.

This kind of exposure could easily be unpleasant, but Barton’s work is deliciously revealing. Her dancers have beautiful bodies and exquisite technique, but even if they didn’t, her work would carry sex appeal. Like sex, it is urgent, embarrassing, raunchy, satisfying, complex — and a lot of fun if you can let go.

During the masterclass, after watching our first attempts at a physically intense traveling sequence, Barton mentioned having recently watched a video of Nigerian juju dancing where women stomp, shake, and sway for hours on end — ecstatic, uninterrupted, and uninhibited. “Their dancing is so selfless,” she told us. “We tend to edit that raw emotion, that physicality. This is about letting yourself look ridiculous.” She demonstrated a little impromptu juju. “Try it again with that in mind,” she instructed.

And I’m hungry for more.

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