Late on Monday 6th November 2017 Ana Barbour, much loved, inspirational and guiding presence in the Oxford dance scene, passed away having battled with cancer.  Her touching funeral at the home she loved on Sunday 12th November was attended by numerous family, friends, and colleagues, and was a celebration of her life and achievements in speeches, songs and dance.  I felt honoured to speak on that occasion about Ana’s work as a dance artist in Oxford, and I am posting here my speech to pay tribute to her.  You can also find links below to her own blog Anadances, Cafe Reason of whom she was an integral part, and the DEC Project; and her own occasional writings for this blog.  Oxford Dance Writers would really welcome other voices in this endeavour of remembrance, so please use the comments facility below to add to this partial picture your particular memories of Ana.  Thank you!

Ana Barbour

When I mounted the Solos Project for Oxford dance artists in 2008 Ana was one of six dancers who showed solos in the Burton Taylor’s intimate studio space. Her Butoh inspired piece Baggage accompanied by the atmospheric music of her long term friend and collaborator Malcolm Atkins was a remarkable episode in which having entered bowed down by a bundle on her back she burrowed into the baggage itself, morphing into surreal shapes and images of confined struggle that were humorous, poignant and dreamlike. It was my first experience of Ana as creative imagination and compelling performer.

Late we worked together with Flavia Coube, Malcolm and Bruno Guastalla on an Oxford Improvisers led performance at St Michael in the North Gate. I discovered what a pleasure it was to dance with Ana, an experienced improviser to my novice; despite our different dance traditions it seemed we could be in tune in our dancing, her generous and open approach enabled spontaneous movement leading us in directions that felt both surprising and right. On that occasion I remember watching open mouthed as she slowly climbed like an insect up the whitewashed wall of the church, unforgettably in the moment and responding intuitively to the unique character of the space.

We continued to work together on the DEC Drawing Dance Project with Malcolm and Bruno and visual artists Kassandra Isaacson, Antonia Bruce, Susan Moxley and Clare Bassett, exploring the interactions between drawing, dancing and music. From a week residency at OVADA came regular sessions at URC, performances in Oxford Improvisers’ Cohesion Festival, the Story Museum and finally a show Luminous Shadows at the Old Fire Station in 2013. I think that I will always be indebted to Ana in what I learned from her as improviser and artist, her ability to conjure imaginative worlds out of a ball of string, a daub of ink, a gesture in movement or music.

But I am only one of many Oxford dance artists she touched; and feel privileged to have the chance to bear witness to some of the many ways in which beyond her special performing and creative relationship with Café Reason she supported and enriched the local dance community. I took my first steps as an improviser at one of the Café Reason Diamond Nights series of platforms of which she was a regular convenor, contributing not just as an artist but tirelessly organising, generously opening out these valuable evenings for the sharing of new and exploratory work to dancers beyond the Butoh group. Ana believed in collaboration both across art form and with other dancers. Her wonderful initiative Choreo Collective at the Old Fire Station provided a welcoming space where all could come and share ideas, skills, try things out with colleagues. It was typical of her; open, informal and deeply fruitful for those attending; generating new work, creating bonds and building a real sense of artistic community.

This initiative had the support of Oxford Dance Forum of which Ana was a founding member playing an important role in its establishment and development over the years. She contributed generously as a long-standing member of the Steering Group where her wisdom, honesty and ideas were greatly appreciated. She herself actively supported ODF initiatives, setting an example of proactive participation by attending workshops and discussions and taking up the opportunities offered; notably resulting in wonderful short films, and her appearance as one of the first artists to perform at the ODF annual showcase which became Moving with the Times. The current series of Choreo Labs can be seen as a legacy of her open-hearted commitment to creating opportunities for artists to, as she herself put it, “explore, challenge, reflect, create, observe, share, play and perform”.

Ana was endlessly creative, always exploring new ideas for dance as a complete theatrical, filmic or site-specific experience, drawing other dancers into her visions. Her work was beginning to gain wider recognition, garnering Arts Council support in 2011, and later she performed to acclaim in GoLive Festival events curated by Donald Hutera in London as well as Oxford. Many of us carry indelible images of her performances unique in their playful magic, her ability to seamlessly wed movement, music, video and found objects – a bobbly rug, hanging ropes, a frock of tissue paper petals – in resonant poetic narratives.

But Ana was also an inspiring and warmly inclusive teacher.  As well as Friday Butoh classes for Café Reason her teaching included a memorable short series of classes for the Collective Contemporary Class programme at URC; open classes for Anjali in Banbury for learning disabled adults and children; and for the charity Crisis at the OFS for the homeless and vulnerable.

In talking about Ana Ségolène Tarte said “She always had time for everyone” – and she did, through her teaching, taking an interest in others’ work, coming to see their performances, supporting their projects, writing occasional pieces for Oxford Dance Writers. Not only was her own work of performing, organising, teaching and creating a massive part of dance life in Oxford, adding a unique richness to the mix; her supportive and open personal engagement with others was a major part of the glue that has bound the dance community here together. Here are some of the adjectives that her dance colleagues have used to describe her:

Loving, caring, attentive, encouraging, soulful, cautious, joyful, poetic, mindful, active, diplomatic, full of integrity, courageous, oneiric, present, mesmerising, expressive, humorous, thoughtful, playful – beautiful.

Thank you Ana for all that you have given us.

Susie Crow

12th November 2017

Links

Read about Ana’s work in her own words on her blog here

Find out about Ana’s work with Café Reason here

Find out about Ana’s work with the DEC Project here

Find out about Oxford Dance Forum of whose Steering Committee Ana was a longstanding member here

Read Ana’s thoughtful contributions to Oxford Dance Writers by clicking on the following links:

Some thoughts on feedback

Pegasus Scratch Night January 2012

Cafe Reason’s 10th Diamond Night

Diamond Night 11 June 2013

The Pneûma Project February 2015

Moving With the Times February 2015

Read ODW reviews of Ana’s work as a dance artist, creator and performer, by clicking on these links:

Elizabeth Spight reviews Rope, Rock, R… July 2017

Jess Ryan-Phillips reviews Rope, Rock, R… July 2017

Maggie Watson reviews Women GoLive including Ana Barbour’s Sill July 2016

Barbara Berrington reflects on Women GoLive including Ana Barbour’s Sill July 2016

Rebecca JS Nice reviews DEC group’s Luminous Shadows May 2013

Paul Medley reviews DEC in Luminous Shadows May 2013

Lizzy Spight reviews Moving With the Times including Ana Barbour’s Inertia March 2013

Thomas Stell reviews Moving With the Times including Ana Barbour’s Inertia March 2013 (with additional comments from Malcolm Atkins and Lizzy Spight)

Lizzy Spight reports on Scratch Night works in progress including Ana Barbour’s Inertia January 2013

Lizzy Spight reviews Diamond Night including Ana Barbour’s Inertia November 2012

Miranda Frudd reviews Paulette Mae’s A Suitcase for All Occasions featuring Ana Barbour February 2012

Barbara Berrington writes on No world but persons, DEC at OVADA Gallery featuring Ana Barbour April 2010

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