Epic influences and dancing in socks: Q+A with dancemakers Amber Funk Barton and Josh Martin

Josh Martin and Amber Funk Barton © Yannick Grandmont
Josh Martin and Amber Funk Barton © Chris Randle
3response 35 herosheroine c-tim-summers
Josh Martin and Amber Funk Barton © Tim Summers

Amber Funk Barton and Josh Martin – two of Vancouver’s hottest young choreographers – make their NAC Dance debut in the 2014-15 season, each performing a solo contemporary work and coming together for a high-impact duet, Hero & Heroine. Their program was conceived especially for the NAC and includes a new work created by Barton and co-produced by NAC Dance.

Q: What is the dance scene like out in Vancouver right now?

AFB: There’s so much diversity and range of style that’s happening. There are so many emerging dancers coming up [. . .] and they’re super open-minded in terms of what dance is, and how to create dance. I think it’s a really exciting time, especially for myself being born and raised in Vancouver, seeing how there’s so much criss-crossing of people working together. It’s quite a collective community, I guess you could say.

JM: I think that everyone has found their own niche, their own place inside the community. Which makes it really fertile for collaborations. I’ve heard from other dance artists from other places in Canada that they’re surprised how tight-knit the community is here. I think that’s something that we’re quite proud about, that we all follow one another’s work and we’re in each other’s studios a lot. I guess in describing the dance itself... There’s a lot of dancing from the spine...there’s quite a bit of dancing in socks recently! But I think here in Vancouver there’s always been value placed on movement, invention and trying to keep it about the body.

Q: How did you first get involved in dance, and in the dance community in Vancouver in particular?

AFB: The short version: I was a total bun head for many, many years. And in the middle of my teenage years, I got introduced to modern and I just fell in love with it.

JM: It was a decision of not wanting to be in Alberta in terms of expanding the dance that I did. So the choice [for me] was between Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, and so I chose the place with the least amount of snow! I’d already had my fill of that! Vancouver was definitely a good choice.

AFB: It was my decision to stay in Vancouver, and I’m really happy with my decision. I feel so privileged that I’ve been able to have such an array of people I’ve gotten to work with, and in so many different styles.

Q: How did you meet one another and eventually come to collaborate on the duet that you’re bringing to the NAC later this month, Hero & Heroine?

AFB: I met Josh at a time where I was looking for the type of versatile dancer that I feel I need to do my work. To make a long story short, I met Josh and he was one of those dancers I just had to work with.

JM: We’ve been in and out of each other’s work ever since.

AFB: When you find the people you work with or click with, you want to try to keep those people in your work and in your life. It’s rare when you can find people who understand what you’re trying to do, who can interpret exactly what you want to do. Josh is fantastically intuitive. When I get to work with him it’s such a treat. He is one of my favourite partners to dance with. What happened is that piece led to piece led to piece. I was enjoying working with him, and then it got to the point where I was like, ‘I would be really interested to see what would happen if it was just the two of us.’

Q: Can you tell me about Hero & Heroine? What can we expect?

AFB: It started with the idea of being unable to sleep. These two people being unable to sleep. It actually came at a time where I was having trouble sleeping. It became what happens in this dream world that all of us have, whether it’s a daydream, or our subconscious, where we’re all our own worst enemy. We’re all our own hero and heroine in our dreams.  [The couple] are kinda going in and out of sleep in the duet, [. . .] having a constant power struggle within this dream. I’ve tried to do it so there are those recognizable moments, whether it’s a platonic or a romantic relationship. It’s very broad, so that somebody watching it can dive right into that experience and understand what’s happening and put their own interpretation on it.

JM: It’s an everyday relationship that’s blown up in a way that exaggerates and expands the feelings that we have towards our partners and people in our lives, the people that we count on. Quite physical, quite fast, a lot of really quick partner work, and a lot of quirky interactions between the two of us. Some funny, some a bit sad... Quite a bit of emotion. But I think the fact that it is in this surreal setting allows that dramaticism to exist in a non-cheesy way.

Q: What about your solos? Amber, can you tell me a bit about your new work, Surrender, and Josh, about Leftovers?

AFB: Maybe I could just say, I’ve been watching a lot of Game of Thrones lately! [. . .] This kind of character, this girl came out. I think [she’s] an extraction of me. I was questioning, ‘what is actual bravery?’ What does it mean to be courageous? Does that mean that you’re just so stubborn and you just keep fighting to the very, very end and don’t give up? Or does it mean at a certain point you cut your losses and accept defeat, accept your limitations? It’s about this girl fighting and there’s this kind of epic moving through the space and trying to create this world, where even though it’s not there physically, you can see it moving. There’s a sword fight. It’s physical. But that becomes this imaginative vessel to explore those questions.

JM: [Leftovers has] been made in bits and pieces all over, long-term. It’s been in development for me since 2012. It never stops being made. It’s always in the works. It’s a lot of space-based improvisation, really highly-structured improvisation that I’ve been working on getting very, very consistent. But there’s a lot of room for play each time I perform it. Which is kind of scary, but it’s also more exciting to have something to constantly work on.

Q: Amber, NAC Dance was able to contribute to the creation of Surrender. It is co-produced by NAC Dance. Are you able to speak to how that contribution affected the development of that piece?

AFB: It means I can have music composed for it. I can have additional studio space. To even be considered for a co-production is a huge honour. I have the highest respect for the NAC. [That support] helps you as an artist, just to do what you need to do, and to have another opportunity to create and to further define yourself as an artist, and to get stronger in your artistic vision.

Q: What are your feeling about coming to Ottawa to perform this program as part of the NAC Dance season?

JM: In dance it’s really difficult for these short works to exist. It feels really exciting to show a variety of work all in the same program. It’s gonna be cool! I worked in Ottawa at Le Groupe dance back in 2007 for one season, and one of the best parts of being in Ottawa is definitely having access to the NAC Dance series. It’s the best you can get.

AFB: I am extremely honoured to be having a shared performance with Josh. I’ve become a stronger choreographer because I’ve been able to work with an interpreter and a dancer like him. I’m very thankful for Cathy Levy, not only for the co-production but for giving us this opportunity to come out East to Ottawa. It’s so hard if you’re on the West coast to bridge that gap to come out East. To be able to have this opportunity is so awesome, and so great. I’m gushing with thanks these days! I’m so thrilled for this performance.

Josh Martin’s company, 605Collection
Amber Funk Barton’s company, the response.

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