Thursday, February 17, 2005
“They always have these really candid questions,” says Alisa Rasera, Education Director at AXIS Dance Company. “How fast can your wheelchair go? Why can’t you get out of your chair? Why can’t you open your hands? Do you shower or swim with your prosthetic? They always want to know why the dancers without disabilities would want to perform with the disabled dancers.”
Rasera is talking about the assemblies of schoolchildren for whom AXIS, the groundbreaking and highly-lauded dance company, perform matinee shows while on tour. Dance Access, the educational wing of the AXIS Dance Company, will present two such matinee performances for schoolchildren next Tuesday before the main company’s evening performance at the World Theater on the CSUMB Campus.
“Our programs really emphasize educating kids about dance and disability, and the collaboration of dancers with and without disabilities,” Rasera says. “We want kids to understand that you can do anything that you want to in your life and it doesn’t matter what your situation is. If you have disability, you can still dance. All you need is the passion to do it.”
According to Rasera, the matinee performances are designed to be interactive.
“We have kids up on the stage to participate,” she says, “and we have them dancing in their seats. We educate them about dance vocabulary and then have a candid discussion about disability awareness at the end. It’s actually really refreshing. The kids always ask questions that adults are afraid to.”
“Physically integrated dance,” a style of dance AXIS pioneered and developed, began as an experiment nearly 20 years ago. According to Artistic Director Judith Smith, AXIS was the brainchild of choreographer/dancer Thais Mazur, who had an interest in disabled actors and theater and wanted to combine them in dance. Today, the powerful and inclusive dance form has bloomed into an internationally acclaimed phenomenon.
“We started from scratch and had to make it up as we went along,” Smith says. “Some of us had never danced, or never danced in a wheelchair, or never danced with someone in a wheelchair or with prosthetics. As a result, the first 10 years of AXIS were spent developing the company and its dance movement vocabularies.”
As AXIS started commissioning work, renowned choreographers jumped at the chance to work with the unique company.
“They began working with us in the same way as any other company,” Smith says. “The exciting thing for them is that they get to work with a whole new pallet of movement possibilities.”
The core company, which consists of seven dancers—Stephanie Bastos, Katie Faulkner, Bonnie Lewkowicz, Sean McMahon, Renee Waters and, of course, Rasera and Smith—will perform four pieces Tuesday night. The first, “Suite Sans Suite,” is “a series of solos, duets, a trio and a quintet that peek into the complexities of different characters and their relationships,” explains choreographer Sonya Delwaide. With music by the Tin Hat Trio, the piece creates “a humorous atmosphere that emphasizes the uniqueness of these dancers and the vocabulary they have created with each other.”
The second piece, “Flesh,” draws loose inspiration from a 1909 short story by E.M. Forster called “The Machine Stops,” a dystopian fable set in the future. According to choreographer Ann Carlson, the piece is also “inspired by the performers themselves, who are their own kind of survivor and purveyors of a new world of radical physicality and outrage.”
“Secret Ponies,” the third piece in the performance, is constructed as a series of seven vignettes for five women. Choreographer Stephen Petronio likens the piece to a mythical horse, “the wild animal that rides through our imaginations, unleashing movement and transporting us to the undiscovered.”
The final piece, “Dust,” is a ‘choreo-portrait’ of a community of people, some of whom are disabled and others who, at least on a surface reading, are not. According to choreographer Victoria Marks, “It is not a piece about disability. It is about desire and mortality.”
Marks’ description of “Dust” suggests a good maxim for the AXIS Dance Company itself: ‘It’s not about disability, it’s about dance.’ Under the artistic direction of Judith Smith, the company’s stellar repertory continues to garner international acclaim and attract iconic choreographers such as Carlson and Marks. The creative potential for physically integrated dance appears endless.
And those wheelchairs? They go plenty fast, kid.