The Quirk Factor

Houston Ballet tackles its first piece by Aszure Barton.
Published in the December 2012/January 2013 issue.

Photography by Jim Lafferty


Aszure Barton is a thoroughly postmodern choreographer: She doesn’t mind if a step is ugly, as long as it’s interesting. Over the past six years, she’s choreographed for American Ballet Theatre, National Ballet of Canada and Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, using her training from Canada’s National Ballet School to shape ballet bodies in new ways.

This September, Barton’s latest work, Angular Momentum, shared a bill with pieces by Twyla Tharp and Julia Adam on Houston Ballet’s all-female-choreographers evening, Women@Art. She began rehearsals with the company with just a score (“Gemini in the Solar Wind,” from Mason Bates’ The B-Sides: Five Pieces for Orchestra & Electronica) and an idea to make a ballet about energy. Barton spent the first few weeks introducing the company to her vocabulary. Her shapes are idiosyncratic, her dynamics unconventional. A grand plié splinters into five different movements. The face is treated like another limb, with even the mouth becoming a choreographic element. “Stanton Welch told me that Houston audiences are willing to try anything, so I could do whatever I wanted,” says Barton. “That takes a lot of trust.”

Principal Joseph Walsh and corps dancer Katelyn May work through a phrase.

Jim Nowakowski perfects the precision of a shape.

Karina Gonzalez (pictured here) found the most challenging part of the piece was the musicality: “Aszure’s way of counting is very different. We spent hours clarifying which detail went on which note. It was like doing math while dancing.”

“With these phrases, the dancers’ brains are in constant motion. They detach from their usual habits, and it creates a quality like none other.” —Aszure Barton (pictured here)