Alice Sheppard photographed by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine
It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.
Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.
And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.
There's a tradition in hip-hop culture of reclaiming negative words as positive ones. That's why you might hear things like "nasty" or "bad" as compliments. The same goes for ILL-Abilities, a breaking crew comprised of differently-abled dancers:
"The 'ill' does not refer to 'sick' or 'unwell' but rather to incredible, amazing, intricate, talent," they write on their website. "Rather than seeing the negative limitations of 'disability,' this crew focuses on their positive, or 'ill,' abilities."
AXIS's Lani Dickinson and James Bowen. Photo by Matt Evearitt, courtesy AXIS
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.