Choreographer’s Corner: Blythe Barton

On December 19th San Diego Dance Theater is holding the first ever “Young Choreographer’s Prize.”  Eleven up-and-coming San Diego-based dance artists were selected from many to compete for the contest.

Three judges will help select the final winner on this date, but there is also a vote counted from the audience!  So to help our audience make their choice, we will be doing special “Choreographer’s Corner” interviews with our contestants.

First up is the marvelous Blythe Barton.  Company Member, and well known Wonder Woman in the San Diego dance world.  Here is what she has to say in response to our probing questions:

Q: Tell us a little bit about your history in Dance.

A: I started my movement life as a young gymnast and continued that line of training up through elementary school. A friend of mine was taking ballet classes at the time and so, with the encouragement of my parents to stay active, I thought I would try something new. From that point on I intensely studied ballet technique, taking a brief hiatus to perform with my high school’s Dance Team. (We took 3rd Place in the UDA Dance Championships and were featured on ESPN.) I discovered Modern Dance when I arrived at Chapman University. From the first semester of undergraduate studies I was intrigued by choreographing. I created new dances each year and in my senior year was awarded the highest Chapman University student award ‘Outstanding Student Choreography Award’ for my dance Conversations at a Table (2004). I graduated with my BFA in Dance Performance in 2004 and then went on to continue my dance studies at Florida State University in their Masters of Fine Arts program.

In Florida, I had the opportunity to study with amazing teachers and choreographers and further learn the techniques of performance and of choreography. In 2005, Florida State chose my dance Standing Still, to be performed as representing the university at the 2006 American College Dance Festival Association. For my thesis, a partner and I produced an evening of dance; from concept, to choreography, to performance, to production, and defense. In the evening, I performed two solos created for me, presented a dance video and choreographed two new works. I graduated in 2008 with my MFA in Dance Performance and Choreography and moved out to San Diego.

Since moving to San Diego, immediately following my MFA graduation, I have continued training with Jean Isaacs, Bradley Michaud, John Malashock and Michael Mizerany who have provided me with some wonderful performance opportunities as a professional dancer. In 2009, I became Company Dancer with Jean Isaacs San Diego Dance Theater and in 2010, I became Company Dancer with Malashock Dance. Through San Diego Dance Theater, I have also had to chance to perform with notable artists Monica Bill Barnes, Elfi Schaffer Schafroth, and Katie Stevinson-Nollet. For the past two years I have taught in the San Diego Dance Theater School, Intermediate and Advanced Modern. For these classes I have created quarterly dances to be performed in a Studio Showcase setting.  In 2009, Chapman University commissioned a dance to be set on their touring student group; I created Quantum in two rehearsals. Also in the fall of 2009, I was asked as a guest choreographer to set a work on a young professional company in Orange County, Leverage Dance performed Standing Still (2005) in December 2009 and March 2010.  I am currently working again with Chapman University, as a guest choreographer for a concert in January.

Q: Why do you believe your work should win this competition?

A: Since arriving in San Diego two and a half years ago, I have made every effort to become a part of the vibrant dance scene. Dance Place has become my second home, teaching several classes a week, rehearsing with two professional companies, choreographing in the studio, office work, taking classes, and volunteering. My goals are to present myself as a professional dancer and choreographer, one with a unique voice and new way of looking at the world through the lens of dance. This competition provides amazing exposure to the audiences of San Diego and I hope that it will be a platform from which I am able to continue to grow as a professional choreographer.

Q: What are the themes involved in your piece? Is this a new exploration for you?

A:This piece of choreography was initially inspired by a friend’s poetry. Zaedryn Meade, a New York City resident, is well known in slam poetry circles as raw and rhythmic. As a lesbian, her poems speak to me of a universal love where the pro-noun used (he/she) is irrelevant to the depth of the emotions exchanges. She writes…

‘Sport Tea’ (Excerpts)

I ordered your favorite drink today, because I wanted to taste your mouth again.
Spent all my energy on new shoots, trying to green my lucky leaves.
I clipped everything unnecessary.
You pruned away the pieces I couldn’t save or salvage, but I couldn’t quite let go…
You taught me to grow with the simplest of nourishments. Air, red dirt, the touch of your hand.
Maybe I never thanked you.
It is hard separate my growing up from your careful, cruel instructions for training and pruning.
But still, there are things I can’t taste without tasting your mouth…
I still remember that morning. I woke to something breaking and realized it was me.
You always were clumsy with your hands. Maybe I never thanked you for it, for breaking me.
Because I was waiting braced for it to happen, expecting the world to break me and scared that I would break myself…
Maybe I never thanked you for loving me the way you did.
Relentlessly, with such fervor that my tongue still murmurs around you…
I was hoping they would find the pieces of us that used to love each other, but they didn’t.
I wonder where they have gone. I know they are still out there.
Maybe I never thanked you.
But I still miss you and I still think of you.
Like now, kissing the glass of your favorite drink.

I am inspired to play with movement depicting loss and loneliness, as well as the leavings and comings of a relationship. Five women dance and interact, as ambiguous halves of a single partnership. Each of the dancers portrays a different facet of an individual, in different times or situations. Moments of stillness, subtle gesture, intimate partnering, powerfully sweeping movement phrases, and tension filled interactions combine to portray the textures of a complicate intimate relationship.

I am also inspired by the music I have chosen to use for the creation of this new dance. Pete Hawkes composes seemingly simple melodies for cello and guitar. The quietude to these two instruments is misleading as he creates a melancholy environment. I wanted the music to compliment the five dancers and they the music. I am also drawn to the comparison (again) of five as two. As the instruments create a duet relationship of comings and leavings.

Q: What do you want your audience to know coming into the performance?

A: In working with personal themes such as love and loss, I simply hope that the audience will see themselves in a piece of the movement and perhaps leave the performance with new or changed perspective.

Thanks Blythe!  Here is a gallery of our photo shoot of Blythe in rehearsal with one of her dancers, Anne Gehman.  All photos by Aaron Rumley.

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