AXIS Dance Company

February 20, 2012  •  6 minute read


by Mollie McFarland

Founded in 1987, AXIS Dance Company, based in Oakland, CA, is internationally known for their enviable dance repertory created for their ensemble of dancers with and without disabilities. AXIS is a pioneer of physically integrated dance and has received numerous awards for their groundbreaking choreography and artistic collaborations. Under the artistic direction of Judith Smith, the company’s list of collaborators read like a Who’s Who of contemporary dance:  Bill T. Jones, Stephen Petronio, Joe Goode, David Dorfman, Joanna Haigood, Victoria Marks, Ann Carlson, Margaret Jenkins, Sonya Delwaide, Meredith Monk, Fred Frith and Joan Jeanrenaud.

In 2011, AXIS was given an NPN Creation Fund award to support the creation of Full of Words, by U.K. based choreographer Marc Brew. Judith Smith had been following the career of Marc Brew since he became disabled in 1998 in a car accident while on tour with a ballet company in South Africa. Though Marc is not a known entity in the U.S., he is well known and respected in the U.K. and Australia, having worked with the Australian Ballet Company, State Theatre Ballet Company of South Africa, and with CandoCo, the U.K.’s leading physically integrated company. Smith was interested in the freshness and ingenuity of Brew’s work, and that he was one of a very few disabled choreographers added even more promise and dimension to this collaboration. She and Marc had been scheming about working together for many years and with NPN’s Creation Fund, as well as support from individuals and other funders, the scheming evolved into a real plan.

AXIS and Marc Brew developed Full of Words over a 6-week period of intensive rehearsals at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts in Oakland during the fall of 2011. Marc envisioned the work as a sharply executed series of dances that opens up a whole new dictionary of movement. His goal was to create a work that encouraged audiences to think about who might dance as well as, more importantly, who and how we might exist with each other. He developed three duets/conversations among the dancers in everyday settings. His concept was that each dance would be a dialogue of movement based on the game ‘you say a word, I say a word and we will make a sentence’ (the opening and only spoken line in the work). The resulting piece is what some have described as like peering into windows at the intimate lives of others. A claw-foot bathtub, an easy chair and a dining room table and chairs set the stage for these romantic and often contentious physical conversations. Full of Words indeed is one of AXIS’s most theatrical and ambitious dance pieces to date. Composer Dan Wool provided an equally dynamic original music score and Heather Basarab captured the intensity of the scenes with her beautiful lighting design.

Mary Luft of Tigertail Productions has long been an avid supporter of AXIS and of physically integrated dance. In collaboration with the Florida Dance Festival, Mary has invited AXIS to perform and teach as a part of danceAble1 in Miami many times over the past ten years. She truly has a vision and passion for integrated dance and has not been shy about sharing her passion with others. Mary was an obvious choice when it came time for AXIS to seek out a lead commissioning partner for Full of Words. We also knew she would be particularly interested in Marc Brew as a choreographer because of his work with CandoCo in the U.K., his story as a dancer with a disability, and because of his experience in the European dance arena. AXIS feels very lucky to have had presenting partners self-identify as supporters of our work over the years. We always say that ‘seeing is believing’ when it comes to our work. And every once in awhile the right presenter will really see, and see the endless possibilities for the art form and for their audiences, then they get hooked. We’re grateful Mary Luft got hooked early on and others like Arnie Malina at the Flynn Center, Ed Noonan at the Myrna Loy, Marjorie Neset at the N4TH Center, and Carla Perlo at Dance Place. These are the kind of folks you want on your team and the kind of folks to whom you return year after year with your ideas for new projects. You know they will take the time to listen and to share their thoughts and ideas.

AXIS and Tigertail were lucky enough to also receive NPN Forth Fund support this year in addition to the Creation Fund support for Full of Words. This additional funding that is shared between artist and a presenting partner, goes towards the crucial production phase of developing a new work and serves to enhance and deepen the finished work. It provides access to critical managerial, artistic and technical resources necessary to produce a new work for touring.

Companies like AXIS expend a lot of energy securing funding and resources to get a new work to premiere and are left with few resources to plan for the future of the finished work. In the most unfortunate of circumstances, those works never tour and are never seen by anyone beyond the local premiere. This is where the Creation Fund and the Forth Fund have been invaluable to AXIS. In the case of Full of Words, AXIS has used the Forth Fund subsidy towards the hiring of a rehearsal director and for paying dancers for additional rehearsal time in preparation for our touring season in 2012. Furthermore we’ve used the funds to pay the salaries of our in-house booking coordinators who secure and plan future touring engagements.

Tigertail intends their portion of the Forth Fund subsidy to go towards advancing advocacy of integrated dance, AXIS and Full of Words here in the U.S. and abroad, through inviting potential U.S. presenters to the premiere of the work at danceAble and to performances at other touring locations; as well as helping them to develop relationships with international dance presenters by attending the DaDa Fest in Liverpool in 2012. Forth Fund support will allow Tigertail to build the national and international visibility of danceAble, to be recognized as a leader of integrated dance projects, and to expand the development and touring of excellent dance artists with disabilities.

The Creation Fund is valuable in helping an artist to identify their presenting partners, start a dialogue with presenters about the creation of new work, and through that partnership see new work presented on stage. As an added funding opportunity the Forth Fund gives a new creation like Full of Words a life that extends beyond the premiere. Support is needed to get work to the stage for sure. What a wonderful idea…to support and nurture new creations so they can be seen and enjoyed by audiences far and wide – thereby extending the life of the initial investment, the life of the relationship between artist and presenting partner, and the life of the creation that took so long to make. Thank you NPN for acknowledging the hard work of all of us in this business and for being visionaries in building healthy performing arts communities.

AXIS Dance Company and Full of Words can be seen on tour at the following venues in 2012:

*NPN Partners

danceAble is a nationally significant dance project produced by Tigertail and Florida Dance Association and other partners that provides access to dance as a performing art form, broadens the definition of dance and expands the understanding of who can create and perform and provides opportunities for persons with disabilities in our community. danceAble is the only annual event in the U.S. of its kind. danceAble helps to strengthen the body and challenges old notions of who should have access to the world stage. Performances by internationally renowned companies and area choreographers and events for our own able and physically challenged dancers take place throughout the year and within the FDA WinterFest and Florida Dance Festival.

The Creation Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Mellon Foundation

The Forth Fund is supported by Mellon Foundation.