Keep On Turning: New Artistic Director Marc Brew's Big Plans for AXIS Dance Company
Now in its 30th year, AXIS Dance Company, the pioneering physically integrated troupe in Oakland, California, is celebrating with a new artistic director, a new logo and expanded ambitions.
Australia-born Marc Brew, 40, took the helm this spring. A dancer, choreographer and filmmaker, Brew trained at The Australian Ballet School and was a 20-year-old professional dancer when he was paralyzed from the chest down in a car accident. He went on to form the Marc Brew Company and choreograph internationally; he made Full of Words, his well-received first AXIS work, in 2011.
"Marc knows the non-disabled dance world and the disabled dance world," says AXIS co-founder Judith Smith, who served as artistic director since 1997 and will continue in a new role as director, focusing on development and national advocacy. "Those qualities don't come along in a package very often, especially at the artistic level that Marc operates at."
Marc Brew. Photo by Ruth Mills, Courtesy AXIS.
Expanding artists' horizons is among Brew's top priorities. "Historically, disabled dancers came into dance through improvisation and contact work, because it wasn't about having to make specific shapes or techniques from an able-bodied version," he explains. "But disabled dancers want to learn what is ballet terminology, what is Cunningham terminology, and how does it apply to my body?" Brew also hopes to put AXIS on the international map with a possible 2018 UK tour and a collaboration with Australia's Expressions Dance Company.
Along with creating and commissioning original works, going forward AXIS will spearhead more public outreach and training for disabled dancers, choreographers and teachers. And after an October 26–29 home season in Oakland, the company will make its way to New York City for a November residency at Gibney Dance, which includes a choreography intensive, master classes, town halls, teacher workshops and a performance series.
"Law & Order: SVU" has dominated the crime show genre for 21 seasons with its famous "ripped from the headlines" strategy of taking plot inspiration from real-life crimes.
So viewers would be forgiven for assuming that the new storyline following the son of Mariska Hargitay's character into dance class originated in the news cycle. After all, the mainstream media widely covered the reaction to Lara Spencer's faux pas on "Good Morning America" in August, when she made fun of Prince George for taking ballet class.
But it turns out
, the storyline was actually the idea of the 9-year-old actor, Ryan Buggle, who plays Hargitay's son. And he came up with it before Spencer ever giggled at the word ballet.
Just hearing the word "improvisation" is enough to make some ballet dancers shake in their pointe shoes. But for Chantelle Pianetta, it's a practice she relishes. Depending on the weekend, you might find her gracing Bay Area stages as a principal with Menlowe Ballet or sweeping in awards at West Coast swing competitions.
She specializes in Jack and Jill events, which involve improvised swing dancing with an unexpected partner in front of a panel of judges. (Check her out in action below.) While sustaining her ballet career, over the past four years Pianetta has quickly risen from novice to champion level on the WCS international competition circuit.
Sean Dorsey was always going to be an activist. Growing up in a politically engaged, progressive family in Vancouver, British Columbia, "it was my heart's desire to create change in the world," he says. Far less certain was his future as a dancer.
Like many dancers, Dorsey fell in love with movement as a toddler. However, he didn't identify strongly with any particular gender growing up. Dorsey, who now identifies as trans, says, "I didn't see a single person like me anywhere in the modern dance world." The lack of trans role models and teachers, let alone all-gender studio facilities where he could feel safe and welcome, "meant that even in my wildest dreams, there was no room for that possibility."