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"Occupy" Is Not Your Average Site-Specific Work

Rehearsal for Occupy, All photos by Robbie Sweeny

On July 1 and 2, San Francisco audiences will encounter a performance that's an unsettling kick to our assumptions. Stephan Koplowitz has created Occupy, A site-specific journey through an urban garden to be performed by AXIS Dance Company at the Yerba Buena Gardens. This is a dance about inclusion.


Site-specific dance is Koplowitz's mainstay. In London he created Genesis Canyon, a piece meant to be seen against the grand terra cotta walls of the Natural History Museum. He has created works where dancers become one with structures—a hillside, a swimming pool, a row of austere English Junipers. He has choreographed dancers in water, above water, in train stations, on grand staircases, in gyms, in gardens, on streets, every place that humans congregate. Having created about 45 works, he still considers each site a challenge.

Stephan Koplowitz directing AXIS dancers

With AXIS, Koplowitz is facing an additional challenge. The Oakland-based company employs dancers with a range of physical abilities. Because this is his first experience with a mixed ability group, Koplowitz told the dancers, "You're going to teach me. I'm the one who needs to be educated."

"Occupy is about who gets to occupy space and how space affects us," says Koplowitz. While searching for possible sites for this piece, Koplowitz spent a day traveling around San Francisco with AXIS founder Judith Smith. Since she herself uses a wheelchair (as does current director Marc Brew), he learned first-hand of the obstacles that differently-abled people confront on a daily basis. It's not fun dealing with broken elevators or Metro stops where access is not available to every kind of person.

"It's going to be hard to leave this situation and go back to working in a non-integrated environment," Koplowitz says. "This feels so much more connected to real life."

Occupy, which is co-presented by Dancers' Group and Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, will be performed July 1 and 2, 12:00 pm & 2:30 pm. Admission is free. Click here for more information.

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