Flashback Fridays: Descending Cords, 1999

Joanna Haigood Dance Aerial AXISSpring 1940
One tree another tree
Each standing alone and erect
The wind and the air
Tell their distance apart
But beneath the cover of earth
Their roots reach out
and at depths that cannot be seen
The roots of the trees intertwine
– Ai Quing

This poem was choreographer Joanna Haigood’s (ZACCHO Dance Theater) inspiration for Descending Cords,  one of AXIS’ first commissioned works.  Created 13 years ago in 1999, this mesmerizing work premiered at Dance Umbrella’s International Festival of Aerial Dance in Boston, MA.

This aerial piece involved 2 duets – one on a wooden ladder suspended at a single point and one in tall spinning chairs.  It was fondly referred to as ‘the nausea piece’ by the dancers because of all the spinning!



In creation, dancers Nicole Richter & Uli Schmitz, pictured at right, began improvising together on the floor to create some base material. Joanna then took that duet material into the air via a beautiful handcrafted wooden ladder and continued to shape the piece. Uli and Nicole spent a lot of time getting familiar with how the ladder moved and twisted and the way their weight and momentum affected the ladder as well.

Meanwhile, Bonnie Lewkowicz and Stephanie McGlynn were exploring the same concepts on tall sculptural spinning chairs created by Joanna and Lawrence LaBianca.  These chairs were stationary and referenced the trees in the poem while mirroring the movement of the ladder.


Before the piece began, Uli, who is disabled and used a wheelchair or braces and crutches, would climb to the top of the ladder in the dark.  As the piece progressed the dancers worked their way down the ladder.  Surprisingly, most audience members didn’t realize that Uli was disabled until the lights came up at the end of the piece and he bowed in his wheelchair!

AXIS Dance Company. Photo by Amy Snyder. Dancers: Uli Schmitz & Nicole Richter
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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. www.axisdance.org
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