Ana’s Time, a celebration in film, poetry and music of Ana Barbour’s contribution to the arts, took place at Film Oxford the day before what would have been her fifty-second birthday. The audience, which included many of her collaborators, shared laughter and tears as a showing of some her short films brought back memories of Barbour as a performer and creative artist.

Barbour’s film output demonstrates even more than her live performances her capacity to imagine and then present to others her extraordinary vision of the world. Borderlands, opens to the sound of marching feet, before fingers, and then hands, seem to tiptoe over a mossy wall. There is a troubling humour about her presentation of the human body in the landscape as apparently disembodied body parts squirm through vegetation. Footage, a film around a line-up of bare feet, and Eye-I, in which an eye watches from the side of the screen, are witty but unsettling; in Crow’s Playmates, Barbour seems to levitate above the billowing grass, while in My Time (2011) she confronts the problem of her ageing body. The irony is that Barbour did not live to grow old.

Barbour was a great collaborator, working with other dancers, musicians and filmmakers. A recorded interview with Barbour reveals her good humour as she discusses the difficulties involved in co-operative working; her comment on the need for the composer (Malcolm Atkins!) to get down to work raised a laugh. Dariusz Dziala’s film of Ana improvising a short piece of movement with an imaginary dog of variable size, shown to live music by Bruno Guastalla, was beautiful, touching and funny, and Ayala Kingsley’s valedictory poem moved members of the audience to tears.

Dancers’ work is tragically ephemeral, but because Barbour chose to express herself through film, her magnetism as a performer, and her ability to fill the smallest gesture with significance, are not completely lost to us, or to those that never saw her in performance. Further, her gift for working with others, her willingness to share, and her generosity as a teacher have left an indelible imprint on the arts in Oxford. Barbour’s legacy lives on, not only in her films and our memories of her performances but also in her influence on other artists, who continue to create new work that will always be different because once they worked with her.

Maggie Watson

15th October 2018

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