Stealing your heart


CMYK-Art of Stealing Amber Funk Barton


How does a contemporary dance show inspire a Lululemon capsule collection? Amber Funk Barton is still surprised that she can now say she has her own clothing line, and she feels so grateful for the experience. “I feel that both organizations have truly had a collaboration and been inspired by each other,” she said. “They’ve been so supportive and respectful. It’s been a true artistic exchange.”  

This unlikely partnership all began when Barton was introduced to lead designer Jean Okada at the Lululemon Lab during a fit session where she gave feedback on some of their pieces. At that time she was halfway through producing her new dance work, The Art of Stealing, presented by her company, the response, and she was beginning to think about costuming. “I thought it would be so cool to work with Jean,” she said. 

Barton and Okada met for coffee, discussed costuming ideas for the show, and a short time later Okada suggested that they not only collaborate on the show’s costumes, but create a capsule collection inspired by it. “It was the most organic thing that happened. It was being introduced in the right way at the right time,” said Barton. Capsule collections are very small lines, in this case six pieces, inspired by groups in the Vancouver community. 

The right costumes can add so much to a dance. “Sometimes in contemporary dance we don’t put an emphasis on costumes,” explained Barton, saying that tight budgets often lead to hastily put together costumes bought at the mall. For this show she knew it had to be costumed with more thought. The aesthetic of Lululemon really suits this project, with black being the prominent colour.  

“We’ve been working so hard on creating a world that makes sense to us,” said Barton, explaining that each dancer has their own journey within the piece. One dancer said to Barton, after putting on the finished costumes: “Before I just felt like I was in a template, now I really feel like I’m in it.” 

Barton believes in the power of costumes to help transport the dancers to her fictional world: “You can suspend belief better in costume, you have your uniform,” she said. “For the dancers it really helps us forget that we’re dancers and be immersed.” The costume give them another piece of information about their role. 

Barton doesn’t like the word character to describe the different roles in her work. “I create avatars as opposed to characters,” she said, explaining that this leaves room for interpretation. The avatars in this show represent a post-apocalyptic gang of thieves, and there are some identifiable personalities: “There is a power struggle within the gang. There’s the leader, the rookie, the person who challenges authority, etc. It’s more an outline of a personality type.”

Influenced by comics and graphic novels, the loose narrative journey of the show could be described as a moving storyboard. The atmospheric, murky music adds a dark tone to the show and Barton says there’s a sense that “something eminently bad is going to happen.” 

This is Barton’s third full length show, and she explained that after her last work, Portraits and Scenes of Female Creatures, she learned a lot about knowing what needs to be fixed and how to fix it. “It’s just experience. You just have to keep making work and you come to terms with the fact that there’s no way you’ll ever make a perfect piece,” she said. “It’s all connected and every piece leads to the next piece. You don’t get a black belt in choreography,” she laughed. “It’s nice to still feel inspired.” 

The Art of Stealing will be presented at the Firehall Arts Centre May 28 to 31. For more information, visit