Something good is Brewing at AXIS Dance Company

Here is a great article about AXIS 2011 Home Season and the creation of Full of Words…We can’t believe we didn’t come up with the great headline ourselves!
To see the article in original form please click here.(AN)
By Andrew Gilbert
 (Correspondent for Mercury News)

The essence of modern dance is the search for new and revealing ways for the human body to move in space, and the AXIS Dance Company is in the forefront of this quest. With three disabled dancers who use wheelchairs and three ambulatory dancers, AXIS has developed an extensive and varied repertory featuring collaborations with celebrated choreographers such as Bill T. Jones, Joe Goode, Stephen Petronio and Margaret Jenkins, and visionary musicians such as Joan Jeanrenaud, Meredith Monk, Fred Frith and SoVoSo.

The Oakland-based company adds to that impressive roster at Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts on Oct. 7-9, presenting the world premiere of “Full of Words” by Marc Brew, a fascinating pairing of choreographer and company. Brew, who’s been in town for several weeks working with the AXIS dancers, trained at the Australian Ballet School and was on the cusp of an international dance career when a car crash left him paralyzed.
Determined to continue exploring movement, he has spent more than a decade working as a dancer, educator and choreographer in London, where he forged a particularly productive relationship with CandoCo Dance Company, a collective of disabled and able-bodied dancers that shares a similar mission with AXIS. Now leading his own UK company, he’s become a highly sought-after dancemaker, which is one reason it took so long for AXIS to arrange a collaboration.

Judith Smith, AXIS’ longtime artistic director, first heard about Brew in a New York Times article in the late 1990s and contacted him about collaborating with the company. After years of discussion, AXIS was able to commission “Full of Words,” which is set to an original score by Bay Area composer Dan Wool.

“It’s been 12 years in the making,” Smith says. “For us, it’s very exciting to work with a choreographer who knows both sides of our fence. That’s not something we get very often. Marc is one of the few disabled choreographers doing this level of work, and it’s so exciting to support his career.”

The company has been toiling with Brew on “Full of Words,” which is shaping up as a 25-minute dance (David Dorfman’s rigorous 2009 gem “Light Shelter,” a piece that premiered as part of the company’s 20th season, and AXIS dancer/choreographer Sebastian Grubb’s impressive “The Narrowing” are also on the program).

AXIS has often sought out choreographers eager to push the physical limits of the dancers. While no less technically demanding, Brew is known for creating dance that builds from prosaic motion. The decor for “Full of Words” includes a bathtub, easy chair and dining room table.

“It’s definitely a piece about relationships, about everyday relationships in everyday locations,” Smith says. “The movement that’s being created is pretty phenomenal. Marc likes to employ line and release and folding and unfolding. We have some shared vocabulary we’re starting with.”

Brew is just the latest choreographer to join AXIS’ ever-growing array of creative connections. Founded in 1987 by Thais Mazur, the company took a major leap in 2000 with an ambitious home season featuring new works by Sonya Delwaide, Joe Goode, Joanna Haigood and Bill T. Jones, whose AXIS-commissioned “Fantasy in C Major” won an Izzy (Isadora Duncan Dance Award). In that one season, AXIS made the treacherous leap from scrappy Bay Area troupe with an intriguing but sometimes gimmicky mission to a nationally recognized company featuring accomplished, chance-taking dancers.

Smith says that “Fantasy in C Major” played an essential role in the transformation. The raw controversy over New Yorker dance critic Arlene Croce’s notorious 1994 nonreview of Jones’ piece exploring terminal illness, “Still/Here,” which she denounced as “victim art” without actually attending a performance, had been rekindled by the 2000 release of her book “Writing in the Dark.”

Jones was game for creating a dance for AXIS, but made it clear to Smith that, at that point, the stakes were high.

“Bill was very curious but a little cautious,” Smith recalls. “When he agreed, he said pointedly, we can’t fail. We thought we’d have six weeks to work on it, but in the end, we had three. Technically, it was the most difficult thing we’ve ever done. We worked our butts off, and it was such an amazing experience. Almost every time we’ve brought choreographers in, we’ve had amazing moments.”

Photos by Andrea Basile
Details: 8 p.m. Oct. 7-8, 2 p.m. Oct. 9, Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice St., Oakland; $10-$20.50; 510-625-0110,, 510-625-0110.


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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