This month, Oakland’s AXIS Dance Company celebrates 25 years of physically integrated dance and leading-edge contemporary choreography. Dance Magazine gave a nod to this historic occasion with a news item by yours truly.
ODD integrates dancers in wheelchairs and on foot.What’s in a name? AXIS, the name of Oakland’s renowned physically integrated contemporary dance company, plays on the turning axes of wheels and on accessibility; before it formed in 1987, world-class opportunities for dancers with disabilities were few. For choreographers like Joe Goode, Margaret Jenkins, Sonya Delwaide, and now Shinichi Iova-Koga, AXIS Dance Company also means access to uncharted dimensions of creativity. “We realized early on that instead of having disabled dancers in the company being a limitation, it actually opened up this huge potential for movement and partnering and ensemble work,” said artistic director Judith Smith. Combining dancers in wheelchairs and dancers on foot, AXIS achieves speed, fluidity, inventiveness, and freedom that other companies can’t match.
AXIS “presents a completely different body than I’ve been working with, and that gives us a whole new series of investigations that we can get into,” said Iova-Koga, choreographer of ODD, a new evening-length piece inspired by the moody, figurative paintings of Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum and performed by an ensemble of dancers from AXIS and Iova-Koga’s award-winning company inkBoat.
Read the rest of this preview in the East Bay Express.
East Bay Express Fall Arts Preview, September 1, 2010
A stellar East Bay dance season is waiting in the wings.
Along with venues that draw dance talent from around the globe, the East Bay boasts world-class choreographers and dancers (who are sometimes better known on other continents than in their own neighborhoods). Whether your taste runs to the classical, the contemporary, or the avant-garde, the 2010-11 season offers something to satisfy your appetite. And with so many shows, festivals, and special events to choose from, it’s easy to fill your dance card.
Read the complete article at EastBayExpress.com
In Dance, July 2010
Nina Haft visited the Middle East in 2007 to experience the culture and see firsthand how people there use dance to address the immense challenges in their lives, from restricted travel to conflicts that last for generations (In Dance, September 2009). Choreographing her latest work, SKIN: One Becomes Two, was Nina’s way of processing the experience and exploring “what happens when boundaries are crossed during times of love and conflict.” This May, she and dancers Lisa Bush, Becky Chun, Rebecca Johnson, Edmer Lazaro, Mo Miner and Frances Sedayao, accompanied by Frank Shawl, performed the piece at the Ramallah Dance Festival and at a refugee camp in Bethlehem, a dance school in Jerusalem and in Amman, Jordan. Claudia Bauer sat down with Nina and Rebecca before and after their trip.
Read the interview at DancersGroup.org.
Sometimes dance is the least important part of a dance performance. For the kids who performed in Berkeley/Oakland AileyCamp’s season finale at Zellerbach Hall, dance, to paraphrase Robert Louis Stephenson, was about being what they are and becoming what they are capable of becoming.
“I Been ’Buked,” an excerpt from Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, opened the show. The kids stretched their arms skyward, leaned and pliéd, evoking the quiet intensity of the original in their own sincerely felt, imperfectly synchronized way. But technique and precision were unimportant on this night: developing the discipline to put the show together, and allowing themselves to perform from the heart, is the essence of the performance, and of AileyCamp.
“Movement is so connected to our emotions and our understanding of the world. We’ve made this arbitrary separation of physicality and mental ability,” said camp director David McCauley. “When [campers] have breakdowns and meltdowns, we’ll take a moment, and the guidance counselor or group leader will take a minute, stop, talk, work out what happened. Why did it happen? How can you work that out so it doesn’t happen next time? Or when that happens, what choices can you make? And then it’s like, how are you feeling? Have we worked it out? OK, let’s get back to class.”
Fifty students ages 11 to 14 attended this year’s camp. For six weeks, they took daily master classes in modern, ballet, jazz, and African dance and participated in daily workshops on personal development and conflict resolution. Many of the kids come from families with straitened finances, and camp is free to all, down to dancewear, breakfast and lunch, backpacks and transportation to and from Zellerbach Hall.
Group interaction and personal guidance teach them important skills, but the dancing opens them up in ways that listening to a teacher never could. “Dance is complete exposure,” ballet instructor Priya Shah said. “Physically it’s exposing because your body is exposed, people are looking at you; you can’t build a wall around yourself because you’re already completely exposed. For a lot of the students, they’ve masked themselves in different ways to fit into the communities they need to fit into and be who they need to be in those places. But when they come here, all of that’s stripped down.”
More than a place for young dancers to have fun all summer, AileyCamp is also an intervention for at-risk youth, and no dance experience is required. Some of the kids come from intact families while others live in foster homes. Camp is the first experience many of them have with consistent, reassuring guidance—and firm boundaries.
Group leader Yejide Najee-Ullah attended Berkeley’s first AileyCamp, in 2002, and it changed her life. “I’m so hard on them because I needed that at that age,” she said. “I’ve seen some of my kids in my group, first week not be able to string a sentence together in front of four people who were looking at them, and not be able to follow a [dance] combination, and now they’re featured in pieces, and their focus is there, and their drive is there, and they’ve completely grown in just a couple of weeks.”
As they practice technique that will improve their dancing in any genre, campers learn life skills that will help them achieve their dreams and goals. “There’s a lot of new ways to solve problems,” said 13-year-old Jolisa of Oakland. “Before, I would just go off, and it would be a big old fight. But now I know, other than ignore them because they’re just messing with me, I could just change the subject.”
Most of the campers grudgingly took ballet class, and in interviews they consistently complained about having to point their toes. But their comedic ballet, “Alley Ensemble,” was a hit with the audience, especially when the magician character used a giant rubber ball to knock down the white-clad ballerinas like bowling balls.
After the dark, moody “Chosen Voices,” which combined martial-arts moves and modern dance, some of the girls segued into a Gullah stick-pounding sequence, and the boys, shirtless and draped in bright sarongs, stomped and chanted through a chest-pounding Maori haka. One had to think the kids were getting mighty tired by this point, but they were about to take things to a whole new level.
Thrumming hypnotically on his djembe drum, Madiou Sao Diouf led a group of five musicians in a brief intro as kids in brilliant African clothing and headdresses ran in from the wings. Suddenly Zellerbach Hall exploded with color, movement and sound. The dancers leaped and kicked and threw themselves into traditional dances of Ivory Coast (Bolowee), Guinea (Liberté) and Senegal (Mandiani) while the band pounded furiously behind them.
It’s easy to think that kids today are only into hip-hop…but I’ve never seen hip-hop danced with more focus and passion than these kids unleashed. Channeled through those ancient steps, their energy could have powered the Berkeley campus for a week. The standing ovation went on for minutes, and the kids sparkled with pride.
Surely much of the credit for that wondrous performance belongs to Naomi Gedo Diouf, artistic director of Diamano Coura West African Dance Company and AileyCamp’s African dance teacher. The kids call her Mama.
Twelve-year-old Toni of Oakland summed up her impact: “Mama is nice; she tells you straightforward, she tells you the truth. She tells you don’t stick your stomach out, and she tells you life lessons. Like, she teaches us to be grateful; she tells us about Ghana, and the children who have to get in the war. When we’re bad she tells us we should be grateful. Like if we’re talking too much, or we’re not paying attention.”
It’s a different kind of learning for lots of the campers—consistent rules meant to strengthen their wings rather than clip them. “They’re constantly being told what they can and can’t do, and what their limits are,” Najee-Ullah continued. “And seeing that lightbulb go off when they realize that they can exceed the limits that people have set for them, that’s why I do it. That healing that they get, and that look on their face, that’s all I need.”
After the African showstopper, the Ailey-tribute final was practically an afterthought, but quite a nice one. Three girls reinterpreted Judith Jamison’s classic Cry as a sweet trio. An ensemble re-created “Wade in the Water,” another excerpt from Revelations, down to the swaths of fabric waving over the floor like a purifying river. And the entire camp came together to finish the show with the somber Hymn, which finished with McCauley and all the camp staff joining in the final steps. Only the most cynical eyes were dry at this point.
On the surface, AileyCamp is about dance, but it’s really about being, and becoming, and expressing yourself. And learning to be a member of a community. McCauley told the kids, “’We all stand on the shoulders of someone else.’ That got a laugh. I said, ‘You might think it’s funny, but it’s not. If people like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King did not come and do certain things, where would we be?’ And by we, I mean all of us. It goes across the board to anyone who’s done something for the human race. Where would we be?”
AileyCamp can accommodate up to 80 students, but budget constraints limited this year’s camp to 50. If you or your company would like to support the program, please contact Cal Performances at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2010 SpeakingOfDance.com
Sneak a peek at AXIS Dance Company’s latest work, “ODD,” choreographed by Shinichi Iova-Koga/inkBoat and performed with guest dancers from inkBoat, at the company’s August 26 open rehearsal and fund-raising reception. Meet the artists and bid on an array of good stuff like jewelry, art, theater tickets and much more (preview the auction items)—proceeds support AXIS’s award-winning integrated dance and classes for dancers of all abilities.
AXIS Open Rehearsal/Reception & Silent Auction
Thursday, August 26th, 6:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice Street, Oakland
It’s easy to get there by BART, and there’s ample street parking. Click here for directions.
Please RSVP by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t forget to mark your calendar for the AXIS fall home season and premiere of “ODD”:
November 5-7 at ODC in San Francisco
November 12-14 at the Malonga Casquelourd Center in Oakland
Upper photo courtesy of Andy Moog, 2003.