Joe Goode on AXIS and their performance at GUSH!

by Joe Goode on Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 12:34pm

Hello, my artistic people! I have put together a series. GUSH! Come and see Melecio do “29 Effeminate Gestures” and catch Ledoh’s amazing “Color Me America” this weekend at Brava Theater Center!

What is GUSH? GUSH is a theatrical impulse
GUSH is a gesture that is too lavish
GUSH is a statement that is too bold or truthful
GUSH is the unleashing of feeling
GUSH is a stand against the bland and the mediocre
GUSH is a desire to feel and be felt

When Raelle offered me the opportunity to curate a series of performances here at Brava I jumped at the chance. One of the stellar differences between the dance scene here and in other countries (notably South America and Europe) is that, here in the US, artists are rarely given the opportunity to champion other artists and to offer the kind of insight and context that we are so perfectly equipped to provide.

So I dove in by choosing this topic, GUSH. I wanted the series to be a celebration of a kind of dance theater that is frankly emotional, that acknowledges the interior life in all of its glorious tumult and wisdom.

One of the benefits of reaching the dubious position of elder artist in the Bay Area dance scene is that I can nudge and wink at my dear faithful audience and say, “Take a look at this.”


My history with Axis is a fairly long one. I have made two pieces for them over the years and our last venture together “the beauty that was mine/ through the middle without stopping” (which is on tonight’s program) won an Isodora Duncan Dance Award for Choreography. Still, when I first met them in their studio I was intimidated. How to make a meaningful work with dancers in wheelchairs, some of whom have very restricted mobility and other dancers who are beautifully trained modern dancers? What was the common thread?

What I discovered is that the thread is perhaps the limitations themselves.

Every human body has limitations and these limitations will inevitably grow and become a larger part of who we are and how we define ourselves. So can we look into these limitations and start to see them as part of the interest, part of the beautiful individuality of the body? And what thrilled me in the course of the rehearsal process was how my expectations were dismantled. I found surprising strength and determination in the body where I might have expected weakness. And the company themselves were so full of wry humor about who they were and what there bodies represented to them.

Which brought me to another fascinating aspect of this work – it directly confronts some of the aversion that society feels toward illness or difference. These dancing bodies are a political statement. Artistic Director Judy Smith says,

“We got together to do art… to make dance. We realized along the way that what we were doing had a sociopolitical impact. Even though it’s not what we set out to do, it’s just there.”

And it’s there in a beautiful way that has attracted some of the most accomplished choreographers working in the field today-Ann Carlson, David Dorfman, Bill T. Jones. And while I think we are all initially drawn to the challenge of making this kind of work, and perhaps to its importance as a statement about otherness, we eventually come to understand the lesson of the body that it has to teach. Again Judy Smith-

“The idea is to show a range of ability. I don’t want everyone to be a “supercrip”.

I want to have people in chairs and people with prosthetics and people who are whizzing around in their “able” bodies. I want to show virtuosity and beauty, yes, but in its entire range.”

And the result is what Axis calls “physically integrated dance”. To my mind, this is one of the most important companies working in the Bay Area today. Not only are they committed to artistic excellence, but they are also offering a fresh perspective on what it means to be human.

-Joe Goode


About AXIS Dance Company

AXIS is one of the world’s most innovative ensembles of performers with and without disabilities. Here you get a behind-the-scenes look into our world and stay up to date with AXIS.
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