Part of the definition of modern dance is to be forever changing — you can't be so much as five minutes ago and still be "modern." So in keeping its place at the cutting edge, Spoleto is presenting Aszure Barton and her company, ASzURe & Artists.
The cryptic name, Barton said in a phone interview, at first stood for "as you are," which for her would be a successful 30-year-old choreographer with a hot company whose credits include Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera, currently making waves on Broadway, and being the new protégé of Mikhail Baryshnikov. She is the artist-in-residence at his newly constructed Baryshnikov Arts Center, a dance mecca in Manhattan. The endorsement by the prince of ballet, who's a big modern dance supporter, has no doubt helped Barton achieve some of her early status. She says Baryshnikov has been a great influence on her. "He has taken me under his wing and has been incredibly generous to me." Baryshnikov has compared Barton to a young Mark Morris, whose career continues to soar.
Barton describes her work as "riveting, exciting, emotional, and dramatic." Another element of her success is her ability to transcend labels. She was trained as a classical ballet dancer at the National Ballet School of Canada and performed with the company in the works of Balanchine, Jiri Kylian, and Maurice Bejart.
In addition to ballet and modern dance, she has worked with Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal, and then there is musical theatre. She was asked by director Scott Elliot to do the choreography for his 2006 revival of Bertolt Brecht's 1933 Threepenny Opera.
"I had such an amazing script and show to work with," she says. "What I did was not steppy like a lot of musical theatre, but I was able to be more creative with the actors. My work is so emotional that it is a lot like acting and so the process was not too different from the way I work with my dancers. The actors were very open to the work, especially Cyndi Lauper (who plays a lead role in the show)."
She describes her group to be more of a project and less of a company because the work is not full-time. "There are six core dancers, and others come and go when we need them. We all do other projects and then come back together to work."
This process keeps the dance refreshing. "I work differently every time so as not to make each piece look alike. In Lascilo Perdere: A Journey of Letting Go (which will be on the program here) I used diaries written by the dancers, which made the work very emotional, very raw. They call me the choreographer, director, and psychotherapist," she says, laughing.
Her family — she is the youngest of three girls — is a strong support system, and they remain so close, in fact, that one sister dances in the company and the other is the rehearsal director.
The second piece on the program is called Overcome, which may best describe Barton herself. "I am overcome with love for so many people. I get affected by them. I have so much love that it hurts," she says.
The piece will be danced to the sounds of love songs by Italian singer Giorgio Conte and old favorite Andy Williams. On the verge of sounding sweetly naive, Barton feels very lucky for her early success. "I feel so deeply about what I do — I would fight to do it. I want to affect people. I want to draw them in and have them tap into their hearts and spirits."
ASZURE & ARTISTS • Spoleto Festival USA • $30 • June 1 at 8 p.m.; June 2, 3 at 5 p.m.; June 4 at 2 p.m. • 1 hour 30 min. • Emmett Robinson Theatre, Simons Center for the Arts, 54 St. Philip St. • 579-3100