Happy feet Chore­og­ra­pher Cherice Bar­ton and Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - Spi­der­man

Chore­og­ra­pher Cherice Bar­ton, whose piece Eu­dae­mo­nia, co-com­mis­sioned by Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let, plays at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter on Satur­day, April 8, has had an un­usual jour­ney in dance. Along with her sis­ters Charissa and Aszure, who also be­came pro­fes­sional dancers, she started nor­mally enough — study­ing tap, jazz, and bal­let at a lo­cal dance school near her home in Edmonton, Canada. She moved into the pre­pro­fes­sional train­ing course at the School of Al­berta Bal­let at four­teen, and joined the af­fil­i­ated com­pany Al­berta Bal­let at seven­teen. Af­ter five years of per­form­ing clas­si­cal bal­let, she be­came a mem­ber of Bal­lets Jazz de Mon­treál — an en­sem­ble not un­like Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let, Bar­ton said — a tour­ing group with a rel­a­tively small num­ber of dancers, per­form­ing con­tem­po­rary bal­lets of­ten cre­ated for the com­pany. It was on a “girls’ hol­i­day” in Las Ve­gas, how­ever, that things be­gan to veer off a pre­dictable course. That week­end she first saw a Cirque de Soleil show.

“Cu­rios­ity and am­bi­tion lead me else­where,” Bar­ton said. “Cirque du Soleil’s show O blew my mind. Here was a $200 mil­lion the­ater built around a vi­sion of water, ac­ro­bat­ics, and en­ter­tain­ment. I knew I wanted to be a part of that world.” Bar­ton had con­tacts at Cirque head­quar­ters back in Mon­treal. Even­tu­ally she found her­self work­ing with Franco Dragone, one of Cirque’s most in­flu­en­tial di­rec­tors, who was em­bark­ing on an in­de­pen­dent project called Le Rêve — The Dream, at the Wynn ho­tel in Las Ve­gas.

“There was a steep learn­ing curve,” Bar­ton said, de­scrib­ing her job as res­i­dent chore­og­ra­pher. “I had been danc­ing and teach­ing and as­sist­ing chore­og­ra­phers at BJM. The next thing I knew, I was thrown into a $150 mil­lion pro­duc­tion with 80 artists.” Like O, which Dragone also di­rected, Le Rêve is a wa­ter­based spec­ta­cle com­bin­ing el­e­ments of cir­cus, the­ater, and dance. “Ev­ery­body had to dance, fly, and get wet,” she said. The move­ment and dances she cre­ated in­cluded ball­room, con­tem­po­rary dance, and ac­ro­bat­ics. “Ev­ery­one had to get their scuba cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. The men would flip and land in the water and never resur­face. The the­ater had un­der­wa­ter wings, and scuba divers would lead the dancers off­stage shar­ing air from their tanks.”

Bar­ton’s dance ca­reer con­tin­ued in a com­mer­cial vein. She was on the cre­ative team for the TV show Amer­ica’s Got Tal­ent, she chore­ographed Katy Perry’s 2015 ap­pear­ance at the Grammy Awards, and

she signed on to work with The Lion King di­rec­tor Julie Tay­mor on the epic, ex­pen­sive, and spe­cial-ef­fects-laden Broad­way show Spi­der­man: Turn Off the Dark. An un­planned year­long hia­tus dur­ing the de­vel­op­ment of and the sub­se­quent re­place­ment of Tay­mor’s en­tire cre­ative team of­fered Bar­ton the un­ex­pected time to ex­plore her own voice as a con­tem­po­rary bal­let chore­og­ra­pher. She be­gan to ex­per­i­ment on some ta­lented stu­dents she found at the Broad­way Dance Cen­ter, where she was teach­ing. “I called the dancers ‘Team Bar­ton.’ They had a mix of clas­si­cal and con­tem­po­rary train­ing like me, and they were also cu­ri­ous about the­atri­cal­ity.” She was also hired to cre­ate bal­lets for dancers at The Juil­liard School and other col­lege pro­grams. A bal­let she cre­ated in 2012 based on Ser­gio Leone’s spaghetti West­erns first brought her to the at­ten­tion of the di­rec­tors of Aspen Santa Fe Bal­let. “I had not been pur­su­ing work as a bal­let chore­og­ra­pher. My sis­ter Aszure was cre­at­ing bal­lets all over the world, and my best friend is the chore­og­ra­pher Crys­tal Pite. I had de­cided it was not my thing. Then, out of the blue, I got a call from Aspen.” She checked out the com­pany on­line and asked around about its rep­u­ta­tion. Over a three­hour lunch in Los An­ge­les, ASFB di­rec­tors Jean-Philippe Malaty and Tom Moss­brucker sealed a deal with her. “I ba­si­cally fell in love with both of them. They are cool and open-minded. They wanted me to be me.”

“Me” is very much what Eu­dae­mo­nia — a Greek word of­ten trans­lated as “hap­pi­ness” — is about. “It’s a 100-per­cent heart project. I de­cided I was go­ing to pull from my own life and be as vul­ner­a­ble and gen­uine as I can.” Bar­ton is forty-six and lives in Los An­ge­les with her hus­band, who works in film and TV, and two daugh­ters, now three and four. “I’ve al­ways been one of those peo­ple who needs the manic en­ergy of per­form­ing in a show or go­ing to parties to give me a feel­ing that I call hap­pi­ness,” she said. “One night, I was ly­ing in bed with my two daugh­ters. Bed­time can be an or­deal, but as I lay there with one girl on each arm, watch­ing them fall asleep, I re­al­ized this is hap­pi­ness. It’s not manic. It’s con­tent­ment. That’s my truth.”

In the piece, nine dancers rep­re­sent dif­fer­ent as­pects of Bar­ton’s feel­ings, strug­gles, and ex­pe­ri­ences. “I had in­ter­views with the dancers and went deep with them,” she said. “I would of­fer a sen­tence, a word, or a feel­ing and ask them to phys­i­cal­ize it.” Some of the cues in­cluded “ego,” “yearn­ing for fam­ily,” “ad­dic­tion,” and “per­fec­tion­ism.” Bar­ton added, “I’m ob­sessed with story and act­ing. This bal­let could have been two hours long.”

Pete Leo Walker’s char­ac­ter has Gene Kelly, Bob Fosse, and Michael Jackson mov­ing in­side him, Bar­ton said. “It was my way of ac­knowl­edg­ing the great­ness of those phys­i­cal ac­tors. Pete rep­re­sents an idea of fleet­ing hap­pi­ness, the charm­ing guy who ul­ti­mately re­al­izes he’s got to find it in him­self. Emily [Proc­tor] rep­re­sents my story, my jour­ney. Step­ping into her truth. Craig [Black] dances look­ing into a mir­ror, al­ways strug­gling with per­fec­tion­ism. The more messy he gets, the more he be­gins to un­ravel, the more he is able to find a sense of hap­pi­ness.”

The score for Eu­dae­mo­nia is a col­lage of mu­sic and voices. Jimmy Du­rante sings “Make Some­one Happy” and “Smile When Your Heart is Break­ing.” There is mu­sic by David Dar­ling, Nick Cave, and War­ren El­lis. The laugh­ter of her daugh­ters and the voices of her par­ents and friends can be heard through­out. “There have al­ways been voices in my head,” she said. “I wasn’t happy. There was a lot of self-talk. I wrote these down while I was mak­ing the piece and asked oth­ers to record them.” “Be happy. Keep your chin up. En­joy this time — it goes by so fast. Stop beat­ing your­self up. Smile.”

Bar­ton said her dance rides a tricky edge when it comes to sen­ti­men­tal­ity. And for dancers, who are not gen­er­ally trained in act­ing, show­ing any kind of emo­tion be­comes even more fraught with risk. “It’s hard for dancers to use their faces. I told them it was like method act­ing, that they had to ac­cess some­thing so that there were gen­uine feel­ings, so that a smile would come out right.”



Pete Leo Walker and Sadie Brown; op­po­site page, Craig Black and cast, both images from Eu­dae­mo­nia; pho­tos Ros­alie O’Connor

Cherice Bar­ton; photo Ge­orge Lange

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