Choreographer Amber Funk Barton explores The Art of Stealing.
Choreographer Amber Funk Barton explores The Art of Stealing.

People steal. From the act of physically taking an object from someone else without permission, to a larger-scale, less-tangible stealing of time, energy, and youth, we take and are taken from. So when do we steal? When is it considered acceptable, and when is it not?  These are the questions that choreographer Amber Funk Barton explores in her latest piece, The Art of Stealing.

[pullquote]“My intention with this work isn’t to make a specific statement on humanity. My primary concern was to make an entertaining and emotionally engaging work. There’s action, skillful dancing, great music, and a roller coaster of emotions.” – Amber Funk Barton[/pullquote]“I feel it’s a pretty big statement to say that we are always stealing from each other or that theft is inevitable,” Barton elaborates, “But what I have thought a lot about during the creation of this work is that I think human beings all have the capacity to make good and bad decisions. When rules change, when society and/or the environment changes, then we are forced to ride this fine line of what actions are acceptable.”

If this all sounds fairly philosophical and heady, then there is another spin to be put on The Art of Stealing. As Barton explores questions of theft, she draws in inspirations from her favourite movies, films, and books, making this among the least-intimidating contemporary dance pieces yet.

“I’ve used it all to build my own personal, live, walking and talking graphic novel,” she says with enthusiasm, “The times I have to sit and watch on the outside I feel more like I’m watching a movie instead of a dance performance.”

Much of contemporary dance is created in a collaborative environment, and The Art of Stealing is no different. “I like to start with what I call work shopping movement with the dancers and have a time of research and play before I commit to developing ideas for a production,” explains Barton.

The Art of Stealing began as a research project I called The Arsenal Project,” she continues. “This was something I had never done before – to have an extended period of movement research without knowing exactly what I was working towards.”

The work that came out of this research workshop was enough material and ideas that Barton felt a full-length production was forming, so the work continued, taking those ideas and fleshing them out over a period of a couple of years. This extended process allows Barton to not only refine the movement phrases in the piece, but to truly create a world for the dancers and audience to experience the piece within. In this case, the world is one of a post-apocalyptic dystopia – a universe of survival where Barton’s questions of survival become instantly relevant. It also seems perfectly fitting given her pop culture influences, and the popularity of dystopian futures in today’s storytelling.

There is another layer of collaboration that has influenced this piece, however. While Barton has been working with her dancers to create movement, she has also been working with Vancouver’s yoga sartorialists, lululemon. The lululemon lab has not only been creating the costumes for The Art of Stealing, but they are creating a fashion line for the store inspired by Barton’s company, set to be released on May 16.

The relationship with lululemon came halfway through the creation process of The Art of Stealing, and purely by accident. Around the time that Barton was starting to think about costumes she met Jean Okada, head designer at the lululemon lab.

“To make a long story short, we hit it off,” says Barton, “I had no idea or even thought it was a possibility that they would be interested in working with use to design our costumes, but that is essentially what happened.”

With all these layers of collaboration, questions, and research falling into place, The Art of Stealing is not gearing up to be a dense philosophical experience.

“My intention with this work isn’t to make a specific statement on humanity,” Barton explains, “My primary concern was to make an entertaining and emotionally engaging work. There’s action, skillful dancing, great music, and a roller coaster of emotions.”

The Art of Stealing plays the Firehall Arts Centre May 28 – 31. Visit http://firehallartscentre.ca for tickets and information.