Nature called and choreographer Aszure Barton answered in her evening length-work “Awáa.”
As seen at The Egg on Saturday night, the work plunged Aszure Barton and Artists into a murky and stormy mix of earth, wind and fire, doused with frequent rushes of water. Like nature itself, the work provided several moments of authentic pleasure and fear. But “Awáa” kept its viewers at arms length, not allowing the experience, both positive and negative, in this natural world to blossom.
The title of the work refers to the Canadian aboriginal people’s term for “one that is a mother.” Barton assigned that notion to water — the source of all life — as well as woman — the warden of the womb. With her seven outstanding dancers, this Canadian choreographer continuously explored the endless cycle of life through the symbol of the Earth and a womb. Video projections by Tobin Del Cuore (also a dancer) and music by Curtis MacDonald and Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin supplied watery sights and gurgling and splashy sounds. A single woman — the willowy Lara Barclay — represented woman.
Barton dove into “Awáa” behind a scrim with one of the six men, in red, encircled in a spotlight. In silhouette, he wobbled, finding his legs for the first time like a newborn foal. As the scrim lifted, his strength built, like a well-stoked flame.
As he exited, he was replaced by a man in blue. He bobbed and swayed at the center while the rest of the ensemble, in flesh-colored clothes, peacefully bent and stretched as if they were trees swelling in a breeze.
It was a sight that was genuinely appealing and it melted away to give birth to a series of tableaux that clawed at the first impressions of mother nature in balance.
Among the best moments was a duet with Barclay and Del Cuore. The two fully merged as one as they mirrored or spooned each other — forehead to forehead, hand to hand, foot to foot. It was a tender, luscious duet, representing symbiosis. But like many of the encounters in “Awáa,” the relationship was ambivalent.
There was also a trio of in-synch men, Jonathan Emanuell Alsberry, William Briscoe and Davon Rainey. Their African-dance inspired dances, in which their rhythm and intensity swept up those in the seats, were the best of “Awáa.” But like these scenes, and others, the scenarios were brief, washed up and over by other, more curious and dreadful segments.
Some of the most woeful sections coincided with the video. At one point, a dancer shimmied and tottered below a smoky figurehead like the Wizard of Oz. In another, the wonderful trio carried out giant red balls on which their distressed- looking faces were projected. They looked trapped inside these orbs, contradicting the life-giving or motherly nurturing that the womb/Earth symbols were meant to inspire.
In the end, the ensemble pounded their thighs, as if drowning in distress. Perhaps Barton was warning us about the state of our planet. Finally, Barclay, in red, came and embraced a survivor, perhaps signalling a sliver of hope for our afflicted world.