Some writers do their best work in short stories; others are natural novelists. Seeing Blythe Barton Dance’s show, “BODYlogue,” last month made me feel that Barton is a novelist of dance. I’d seen several five- to ten-minute dances by Barton, a tall, elegant dancer who’s become a go-to performer for Jean Isaacs and John Malashock; and those pieces were fine, but they didn’t make me go wow. Barton’s “BODYlogue” program, however, included two longer dances, and they were a revelation—complex and idea-filled, with yummy, varied movement vocabularies. One of the questions I ask in reviewing dance is, what kind of society is created onstage? Barton brought a novelist’s skill to her longer pieces, creating vivid worlds.
Barton presented another rich dance-novel in “The only real world I know is mine,” which premiered at the San Diego International Fringe Festival (July 3-13). In this piece, there’s overt storytelling: the sound score weaves in three pieces from NPR’s StoryCorps, alternating with folk-flavored tunes. The stories Barton chose are natural empathy-getters, for instance, a loving dialogue between the wife of a lesbian soldier killed in action and the soldier’s mom.
But the stories themselves are only one facet of the dance’s emotional power. Barton creates a society of generous give and take among her five dancers, with gestures of tender support and warm, respectful eye contact. One dancer may gently help another take off a layer of costume, like a mother undressing a child. During each story, one or two dancers are featured, as if they’re the speakers, while the others seem to hold the space for them.
[php snippet=1] The compassion of this piece reminds me of the work of Doug Varone and Allyson Green. In “The only real word I know is mine,” Barton and her stellar ensemble—herself, Stephanie Harvey, Cecily Holcombe, Nicholas Strasburg, and Brittany Taylor—create a world I want to live in.
Barton’s piece was part of the show “Perception and Perseverance” with another powerful dance, “Hirudinea and Her Host,” by Zaquia Mahler Salinas (reviewed here). The show was honored as the top dance show at the Fringe.