Ahead of Aszure Barton & Artists’s much-anticipated Twin Cities debut here at Northrop this Sat, Nov 12, we caught up with dancer Tobin Del Cuore. Fresh off the company’s performance in Munich, Germany, Tobin shared with us when he began dancing (quite literally before birth!), what a typical day looks like for him, why the piece Awáa is so unique, and what it’s like working with choreographer Aszure Barton.
1. Why do you dance?
I think I have always danced. I came into this world wrapped up in my umbilical cord because I had been moving around so much inside my mother. Since then, I have often preferred expressing myself physically, rather than with words. There have been times when I actually don’t like dancing, and then other times when it has been the most profound, important, necessary part of my life—something I couldn’t do without. It is part of my essence. It always will be.
2. What do you do to get ready for a show?
Getting ready for a show involves a few different concerns. One of the most important is finding the right type of food and having enough time to eat and digest. When touring, this can be tricky and takes some planning. The next thing is clearing my head. Letting go of any rehearsal stress or concerns and trying to find peace. I’ll take a quick nap if I can, and then about 30 minutes before the show, I start my warm up.
The warm up routine I do is something I learned from a teacher at Juilliard, with a few modifications. It is based on a series of repeated circular movements. Over the years, when I’ve struggled with pain or fatigue, this warm up has been my savior.
3. What does a typical day in your life look like?
It is hard to describe a typical day because my schedule varies so much. The dance projects I do throughout the year are all different and each group or company functions differently. Sometimes I take ballet class at a studio in New York and then go to rehearsals, other times the company has a warm up scheduled. Sometimes I wake up and I’m in another city, or another country assisting Aszure Barton in a new creation for a company for a couple months.
I also run a small video production company, so sometimes my days are simply waking up in New York, having coffee, and then sitting at my desk editing all day. Other days it may be on set directing or shooting a new project.
4. If you weren’t a dancer, what would you be?
I’m already well into another career running my small video production company, Imagination +Muscle. So, if I wasn’t a dancer, it would probably be making videos/films.
5. Who inspires you?
Aszure Barton inspires me. My partner Boswell inspires me. My family inspires me. Others: Barry Jenkins, Pina Bausch, Chance the Rapper, Marina Abramovic, Burke Brown, Jonathan Alsberry, Lara Barclay, William Briscoe, Brett Perry, Oscar Ramos, Davon Rainey, Nick Korkos, Curtis MacDonald, Lev Zhurbin, Michelle Jank, Matthew Barney, Big Dipper, Jermaine Spivey, Barack Obama, Ru Paul...There are so many, the list goes on.
6. What is life like with Aszure Barton & Artists? What is it like working with Aszure Barton herself?
Aszure Barton & Artists isn’t a year-round group, so when we get together to create or perform it’s a treat. There is a high level of trust and comfort working together, yet it is always intensely challenging.
Working with Aszure is a uniquely magical experience. I have witnessed Aszure work with dancers of all kinds all over the world and she has an incredible ability to utilize an individual’s strengths, yet challenge them to explore unknown territory. I have experienced this myself, discovering new depths of my artistry and humanity. There is magic in the way she works.
7. What is your role in Awáa? Why is the piece so special/unique?
It is hard to describe Awáa. It’s better to experience it for oneself. Describing anyone’s role in it is tricky so I’d rather just say why I think it is special: Awáa touches upon the root of what it means to be human. At times Awáa is specific to certain cultural experiences and at other times (it’s) completely universal. It is both light and dark. At once, both joyful and painful. We are born, we struggle, we stumble, we learn, we teach, we float, we sway, we fly, we compete, we destroy, we recover, we create, we praise, we celebrate, we cry, we die, we mourn, we remember, we embrace, we find peace. (It’s) a group of humans going through life. How do you properly describe that in words? This would be the task of a poet. Aszure Barton tasked herself to describe it in movement and music. The only way to get what it is about is to see it.
8. What is your biggest challenge in performing the Awáa? What is your favorite moment in the show?
At times the biggest challenge to performing Awáa is stamina. There are a few sections that are quite aerobic. There is also always the challenge of staying together when dancing as a group. One of my favorite moments of Awáa is my duet with Lara Barclay. Dancing with Lara is very special and with Aszure, we created one of my favorite pieces of dance ever.
9. What is your favorite part of the dance creation process?
In a creative process I love watching the work develop on my colleagues. It is magic seeing the work blossom on their bodies through Aszure’s direction.
10. Where is the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?
I think my home where I grew up in Maine is the most beautiful place. Over the years my parents have created a simple, beautiful paradise. Whenever I have time off, I usually go there. It never gets old. The next most beautiful place in the world is Cinque Terre on the northwest coast of Italy.
With red nail polish named “The Thrill of Brazil” on my toes; a ticket to Portland, Oregon in hand; and a smile on my face; I boarded the airplane. On my way to see the legendary Brazilian dance company, Grupo Corpo, perform in a city I’ve always wanted to visit; and I was alone. As a mother of three teenage boys who are still in the process of developing their frontal lobes, being alone for an entire 24 hours sounded dreamy.
As I made my way to the theater, I was intoxicated by the scent of cherry blossoms, the buzz of the city, and the eclectic people that make Portland an amazing place to visit. I then entered the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, a charming historic theater, and gazed upon the beautiful details of guild moldings, crystal chandeliers and decorative ceilings. Guests were holding cocktails and wine, while people-watching from the grand balcony. As I found my seat, the chatter-filled theater let me know the audience was in good spirits, and that they knew they were in for a great night of dance.
I had read that Grupo Corpo is a favorite of the Portland performing arts scene, and this was confirmed when the curtain opened to an explosion of joyous ovation in appreciation for what was to come. This reaction reminded me of why I love live theater; the communication of the audience members with each other, and between the dancers, feels like a pulse.
Grupo Corpo (“Body Group”), is a premier dance company founded in 1975 by Paulo Pederneiras in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. They have been recognized for their precise and passion-filled choreography. When I first saw the company, it felt like the dancers reflected the Pediernas brothers’ quest to find the Brazilian identity. Each dancer has a very distinct and unique look about them. In reading articles about Grupo Corpo and Brazil, they talked extensively about the tremendous diversity of the country; with the population consisting of many transplants from all over the world. Throw in economic and political challenges, and it is clearly an exciting and tumultuous time for Brazil. It is clear to me that the Pederneiras brothers see tremendous beauty and harmony in the differences in their country.
The first dance, Suite Branca (“A Ballet in White”), begins by revealing an all-white theme. This includes a large iceberg, full of texture and depth, that encompases the entire back of the stage and frames the dancers. Beautiful, bright, and playful music fills the theater. The precision and gravity-defying moves made me blink twice, and at one point the movements gave the illusion of ice breaking off a glacier and plunging into the water below. Forty dancers dressed in white floated across the floor like ice chunks moving in the ocean.
The final dance, Dança Sinfônica, is a celebration of Grupo Corpo’s 40-Year Anniversary. The colors were black and a rich and vibrant red. The use of red during the performance is powerful, and seemed to symbolize different things throughout the repertoire: love; passion; blood; turmoil; and ceremony. The gorgeous symphonic music filled the space, and evoked powerful emotions. Together, the music and dance felt like a celebration and a struggle; a telling of an epic tale. It was layered, complex and breathtaking to watch. I felt lucky to be witnessing Grupo Corpo live.
Like the quirky architecture and people of Portland, the dancers and choreography are unique mix of look and style. The choreography had a mixture of ballet, Afro-Brazilian, capoeira, samba and more. All these movements blended together, creating something entirely modern and unique. Nothing about the dance movements seemed natural, or even humanly possible. Every part of their bodies were in motion from the tips of their fingers to their earlobes, to their toes!
The end of the performance erupted into a joyous standing ovation, and was accompanied by guttural yelps - because clapping didn’t seem to be enough. My hands sore from clapping and my voice hoarse from cheering, I made my way through the inspired crowd and out the front door. The city was full of people, and the buzz of excitement was still in the air. I remember stopping in my tracks and looking at the pedestrians as they passed by. Realizing that they had no idea what had just occurred inside the theater, I found myself feeling bad for them. I wanted to yell out to them, “You just missed something amazing!” Since I missed that opportunity, I am saying it now. Don’t pass up the chance to feel the “thrill of Brazil” as Grupo Corpo takes the Northrop stage on Oct. 3 2016.
An unforgettable adventure etched in my being; a bounce in my step; and a ticket back to Minneapolis in my hand, I boarded the plane. On my way home to my three beautiful teenage boys. I can’t wait to share Grupo Corpo with them this fall at Northrop.