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Why Physically Integrated Dance Still Faces So Many Challenges
After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.
By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.
Judith Smith. Photo by Andrea Basile, courtesy AXIS
When you started AXIS, what challenges did you face in terms of being accepted?
There were people doing contact improvisation and including dancers with disabilities in that. But we didn't know any other companies that were actually setting choreography. The first 10 years were really trying to convince the dance world that we were doing dance, and not dance therapy. That really shifted with the first home season that I commissioned. It had Bill T. Jones, Joe Goode and Sonya Delwaide, and Joanna Haigood.
How did choreographers respond to your invitation?
Bill T., the first thing he said when we got into the studio with him was, "I'm really intimidated by this." And we all looked at him and said, "You're intimidated!" (laughs) The exciting thing about commissioning is the choreographers go away feeling like they got as much out of it as we did. We worked with Stephen Petronio, and he took a whole section that we ended up not using and actually used it on his company. That's been so gratifying, that it's not just them doing this great thing for us, it really is reciprocal.
Did you encounter resistance?
There's one critic who told a producer and presenter that he would never come see us because he did not consider what we did to be dance. The first time he came and saw us was our 15th anniversary, and he reviewed it, and actually liked what he saw. Now, he's come to everything. Some works he likes, and some he doesn't. But it was pretty gratifying to learn that people can change their minds.
Do you think that lack of training is the most significant challenge?
I do. There are not enough opportunities for disabled dancers to get training.
What is the barrier?
Teachers are not trained. That's part of our artistic advancement platform: going out and training more teachers all over the country. Somebody like me can't just show up to a dance class. Most of the dancers don't get to pursue dance at college. Victoria Marks is trying to shift that down at UCLA, and Jeff Friedman at Rutgers.
Your teacher trainings and choreographic workshops fill to capacity, so there's demand.
We turn people away from our summer intensive every year. One of the things I would love to see is teacher trainings for faculty at festivals. I was talking to one festival and they said, "We never have disabled dancers. Why would we do that, because nobody would come?" They're not aware.
What are the hopeful signs on the horizon?
There are people at universities getting more interested in integrated dance. One thing that's really great when we tour and go to university presenters, is that we usually get to work with the dance department. We've got Trio A Pressured #X [AXIS's staging of Yvonne Rainer's seminal Trio A], and we would love to do a university Trio A tour, where we would do a teach-in and show our version, but also do physically integrated classes.
Once people experience integrated dance, whether that's coming to a show, or taking a class or a teacher training, it becomes real. That seems like the key.
It definitely is. Having the one-on-one experience just goes miles. The hard part is that people come and they're so excited, and then we leave and there's nowhere for them to go in their city. So we're always encouraging people to start their own thing. What I've done is not rocket science. It's just hard work.
There must be something in the water: Last week, we announced that Madonna is directing Michaela DePrince's upcoming biopic. And yesterday, we got wind of another major dance film: According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fox Searchlight has sealed the deal to make Ailey Ailey's life and work into a movie. Yes, please.
While some movies falter along their way to the big screen, we think this one's got legs (and hopefully a whole lot of lateral T's and hinges and coccyx balances, too). Why?
Back in 2012, after 14 years dancing with Mark Morris Dance Group, choreographer John Heginbotham ventured out on his own. Don't think of it as going solo, though.
Almost from the outset, Heginbotham has embarked on a series of fruitful collaborations with other artists, via his namesake company, Dance Heginbotham, and through a stream of independent projects. His creative partners have covered a range of talents and genres: illustrator Maira Kalman (in 2017's The Principles of Uncertainty), opera director Peter Sellars (for Girls of the Golden West, which debuted at San Francisco Opera in November), and contemporary-music luminaries such as Tyondai Braxton and Alarm Will Sound.
Here's What He Has To Say: About starting his company, his rehearsal process and why he's drawn to creative mash-ups.
Raise your hand if you've ever walked out of the studio with just one thought on your mind: a big, juicy cheeseburger. But raise your other hand if instead of getting that burger, you opted for a hearty salad or stir-fry.
While dancers need to fuel their bodies with nutrient-dense meals and snacks, plenty of foods get an unfair bad rap. "The diet culture in this country vilifies various food groups as being bad while championing others as good," says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "But black-and-white thinking like that has no place when it comes to food."
Some foods have less nutrition than others, admits Hogan, but if you're eating what you crave and honoring your hunger and fullness cues, she says you'll probably get the variety of nutrients your body needs. Here are seven foods that can have a place on your plate—guilt-free.
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
Ten years is a long time for a dance production to run, but Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Sutra, an athletic, meditative spectacle featuring 19 Shaolin monks and a malleable set of 21 wooden boxes (designed by Antony Gormley) is still striking a chord with audiences worldwide. To celebrate the milestone, Sutra is returning to Sadler's Wells, where it all began. March 26–28. sadlerswells.com.
Whether playing a saucy soubrette or an imperious swan, Irina Dvorovenko was always a formidable presence on the American Ballet Theatre stage. Since her 2013 retirement at 39, after 16 seasons, she's been bringing that intensity to an acting career in roles ranging from, well, Russian ballerinas to the Soviet-era newcomer she plays in the FX spy series "The Americans."
We caught up with her after tech rehearsal for the Encores! presentation of the musical Grand Hotel, directed and choreographed by Josh Rhodes and running March 21–25 at New York City Center. It's another tempestuous ballerina role for Dvorovenko—Elizaveta Grushinskaya, on her seventh farewell tour, resentfully checks into the Berlin hostelry of the title with her entourage, only to fall for a handsome young baron and sing "Bonjour, Amour."
When Andrew Montgomery first saw the Las Vegas hit Le Rêve - The Dream 10 years ago, he knew he had to be a part of the show one day. Eight years later, he auditioned, and made it to the last round of cuts. On his way home, still waiting to hear whether he'd been cast, he was in a motorcycle accident that ended up costing him half his leg.
But Montgomery's story doesn't end the way you might think. Today, he's a cast member of Le Rêve, where he does acrobatics and aerial work, swims (yes, the show takes places in and around a large pool) and dances, all with his prosthetic leg.
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
A flock of polyamorous princes, a chorus of queer dying swans, a dominatrix witch: These are a few of the characters that populate the works of Katy Pyle, who, with her Brooklyn-based company Ballez, has been uprooting ballet's gender conventions since 2011.
Historically, ballet has not allowed for the expression of lesbian, transgender or gender-nonconforming identities. With Ballez, Pyle is reinventing the classical canon on more inclusive terms. Her work stems from a deep love of ballet and, at the same time, a frustration with its limits on acceptable body types and on the stories it traditionally tells.
The latest fitness fad has us literally buzzing. Vibrating tools—and exercise classes—promise added benefits to your typical workout and recovery routine, and they're only growing more popular.
Warning: These good vibrations don't come cheap.