Student Blog: Aszure Barton finds form in Germany

July 24, 2019

Cast of Aszure Barton's "BUSK" performing on stage

BFA students perform Aszure Barton's "BUSK" | Photo by Rosalie O'Connor

USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance senior Jake Tribus (BFA ’20) and alumna Jessica Muszynski (BFA ’19) worked with choreographer Aszure Barton at USC Kaufman this year, then were invited to join her in Germany this summer to work on a new creation. As a part of Aszure Barton & Artists, the two dancers are in the studio with company members during the day, then touring the city afterward. Here, they offer their own perspectives on Barton’s process and their routines as dancers in a new city.

In this particular process, what is the difference between working in a professional setting and working at school?

JT: Operating within a professional group of artists is very eye-opening. It reminds me just how important structure and routine are to your training as a professional. The company (the group of nine working for Aszure on this project) starts the day with a warm-up class, ranging from ballet to “bootcamp” fitness classes taught by some of the older company members. We then move into rehearsals for the day. Within this routine, Aszure expects the dancers to understand their bodies and do what they need with longevity in mind–I do enjoy that.

JM: Honestly, it is a lot less stressful. In school, there were times I would feel a manic desire to please the choreographer, the repetiteur or whoever was at the front of the room. In this particular artistic process, I feel so valued. I can really say that we all bring something unique to the table. Not to mention that six of the other dancers are quite well-seasoned. I’m just in the studio soaking in their corporeal wisdom all day. I don’t know if it’s the difference between professional setting and academic setting, or if it’s just my own peppering. But in my own mind, there has been a shift of priorities from caring about myself to caring about the group and the work.

What are the thrills and drawbacks of traveling for work, and how’s Hamburg?

JT: Getting to travel and dance simultaneously is a blessing. I love experiencing different ways of life, foods, languages, landscapes, etc. It is so beautiful that people living on different halves of the planet could still ultimately relate to, understand and empathize with this art form. I think the only downside to traveling (especially internationally) is not being able to speak the language fluently! Hamburg is such a wonderful city. The last three weeks, we’ve enjoyed beautiful bike rides, picturesque sunsets on the harbor and dazzling city lights at night. The schedule permits us a couple days off per week, so we all take full advantage of the bike service or local trains to get around the city, exploring public gardens, canoeing through the canals or finding the best local eateries. It’s starting to feel like home!

JM: I did not expect it to be so hard. I am fairly shy. In the past it has taken me about a year to warm up to a new environment with new people. But in the life of a dancer, our habitats can change so quickly. I am having to learn to break out of my shell at an accelerated rate. It is so nice to be around familiar faces such as Jake, Tobin [Del Cuore] and Jojo [Jonathan Alsberry]. I am simultaneously excited about being out here while also processing moving away from the deeply cherished community I have in L.A. Basically, I really miss my friends.

On the other hand, independence sends a surge of adrenaline through my veins that I now crave. How grand is it to bike home at midnight after a party on the river docks, to get lost only to stumble upon an antique flea market, to experience the utter helplessness of not understanding a word being spoken to you by a local or to eat bread… with walnuts baked into it? What a rush. But all jokes aside, what really excites me about the displacement is having to trust in God more; to guide me, to get me home safe and to be my comforter in the moments of loneliness.

You are getting an inside scoop of Aszure Barton & Artists’ choreographic process–what’s it like?

JT: The last time I worked with Aszure for this amount of time was to learn her work BUSK, a couple years ago. Even then, the process was about learning a work that had already been created. Now, we’re conceiving a brand new one! The best way I can describe a rehearsal with Aszure is by quoting Jess, who says that Aszure’s tasks are like sudoku.

Getting into a deep creative process with Aszure is similar to an improvisation class with William Forsythe. My Kaufman peers know what I’m talking about. Your brain is thrown for a loop; you are forced into physical and mental tasks that challenge your timing, strength, creativity, courage and endurance. You may begin with a certain task. By the time the day is done, you will have layered on another five tasks or iterations of the task. Creating this new work with Aszure is allowing my own skill sets to inform the work. Simultaneously, it’s pushing my thought process around how to create dance and movement.

JM: This is like candy for me, both figuratively and literally. One nice thing that happens here is that company members will buy community candy for everyone to share during the long rehearsals. I absolutely love it. I also have a strong desire to choreograph at some point in my career, so being in Aszure’s process is blowing my mind. The way she choreographs dance is closer to the way a potter sculpts clay. It ends up looking more like a song.

We start with what at first seems like chaos. Then, Aszure refines the movement until a visual harmony is unearthed. There are so many times during the day that I am supposed to be reviewing sections of the piece, but instead I am just watching Aszure Barton & Artists do their thing. Her process is not just pretty but very mathematical, rhythmic. Meanwhile, she is also paying attention to underlying narratives that she has and that may be occurring in the audience. Multitasking madness, people!