AXIS Dance Company

AXIS began in 1987 when founding Artistic Director Thais Mazur had the great idea and creative vision to gather a group of dancers with and without disabilities to explore dance and create a performance piece. This first piece premiered in 1988, receiving a standing ovation. With Thais as a driving force, AXIS quickly took off from there, receiving offers to perform and requests for classes and other education programs. In this first decade the Company developed a new, innovative movement vocabulary distinctly its own and a language for speaking about and teaching ‘physically integrated’ dance. AXIS introduced audiences and presenters locally, nationally and internationally to this new form of contemporary dance by bringing to stage an exciting and impressive body of work. AXIS filled an important and otherwise unmet need by providing a forum where dancers with and without disabilities of all ages and levels of dance experience could create and dance together. But it wasn’t always easy convincing some that AXIS was creating dance and not ‘just doing therapy.’

In 1997 as the Company entered its second decade, AXIS went through a change in leadership and a corresponding change in its philosophy, artistic direction and education focus. With the new Co-direction of Judith Smith and Nicole Richter, AXIS set out to radically increase the artistic quality and range of its repertory by commissioning world-class choreographers from outside the company as well as continuing to support its in-house choreographers. Inspired by Nicole’s work in the UK, AXIS also dramatically expanded its education and outreach programming, renaming it Dance Access and soon after adding a youth component Dance Access/KIDS!

Under the artistic direction of Judith Smith since 2001, the company has collaborated with and commissioned works by such innovators as Bill T. Jones, Stephen Petronio, Joe Goode, Joanna Haigood, David Dorfman, Alex Ketley, Kate Weare, Sonya Delwaide, Victoria Marks, Ann Carlson, Margaret Jenkins, Joan Jeanrenaud, Meredith Monk, Fred Frith, Eve Beglarian, Katrina Wreede and SoVoSo. More than any other company in the United States, AXIS has been a bridge between contemporary dance and physically integrated dance.

Now entering its third decade, AXIS’ vision is to remain a leader in the emerging field of physically integrated dance by continuing to set new artistic and educational standards. Likewise, it aims to be a contender in the field of contemporary dance by commissioning renowned choreographers, composers and designers to create an exciting, innovative touring repertory. AXIS wants its work to challenge traditional definitions of ‘dance’, ‘dancer’ and ‘ability’ to expand dance to include an entire community that has been virtually left out of the performing arts. At AXIS, our biggest dream is to make a lasting contribution to contemporary dance.

Laboratory -- | October 5 - 18, 2014

AXIS Dance

Coinciding with the 10th Anniversary of MANCC programming, AXIS Dance Company, one of the world’s leading contemporary repertory companies featuring dancers with and without physical disabilities, returned to MANCC for their second residency. The project provided AXIS with a period of research and development with choreographers Nichole Canuso (PA), Beth Gill (NY) and Jill Sigman (NY) each of whom are former MANCC Fellows and who worked with AXIS for the first time during this residency.

Nichole Canuso was the first artist-in-residence with AXIS.  She mined the personal histories of the dancers, recalling memories of family members and details of the dancers’ childhood homes to inspire and create movement. She combined this work with partnering and speaking structures that encouraged a delicate negotiation of agency and responsiveness. On her last day in residence, Canuso convened the MANCC staff and FSU Dance students for an informal showing of the material generated with the dancers.

Jill Sigman followed Canuso, turning to the environment as a source of material.  She connected principles of permaculture to choreography, considering both as design philosophies for living systems.  While in residence, Sigman and AXIS met with Tallahassee permaculturist Anna Lee and visited her site, LuluLand. Sigman brought fresh sod and other natural materials into the rehearsal studio for the dancers to experience and explore, connecting them to green space in the studio.  Sigman ended her time in residence with a School of Dance forum, in which the dancers showed some of the ways they had been working in the studio.

Beth Gill was the final artist-in-residence with AXIS, and she focused her time on developing both simple movements (accepting movement as a natural and innate response to the "here" and "now") and partner work through the mechanics and physics of two bodies in motion rather than through the aesthetic of the duet.  Gill also hosted an informal showing on the final day of her residency.

Choreographer Sonya Delwaide, who has set numerous works on AXIS, joined early in the residency to serve as artistic mentor for the project. Near the conclusion of the residency, Artistic Director Judith Smith hosted a conversation with MANCC Director Carla Peterson on the legacy of AXIS, including their inception, history and challenges of being a physically integrated repertory company.

This residency was supported by the National Endowment for the Arts

  • AXIS dancers respond to Canuso's direction
  • AXIS dancers reflect on an assignment given by Canuso
  • Canuso directs AXIS dancers
  • Canuso with AXIS dancers
  • Informal Showing: AXIS dancers share material developed with Nichole Canuso
  • Informal Showing: AXIS dancers share material developed with Nichole Canuso
  • Informal Showing: AXIS dancers share material developed with Nichole Canuso
  • Informal Showing: AXIS dancers share material developed with Nichole Canuso
  • Informal Showing: AXIS dancers share material developed with Nichole Canuso
  • Informal Showing: AXIS dancers share material developed with Nichole Canuso
  • Canuso leads post showing discussion
  • Jill Sigman and FSU Student Heather Boni work with AXIS dancer Marc Brew
  • Heather Boni and Marc Brew
  • Sigman and AXIS dancers
  • Joel Brown and Sonsheree Giles
  • Sigman leads AXIS dancers in discussion
  • AXIS dancers visit Tallahassee permaculture site
  • AXIS dancers visit Tallahassee permaculture site
  • AXIS dancers explore movement with Jill Sigman
  • Informal Showing: AXIS dancers share materials developed with Sigman during School of Dance Forum
  • Informal Showing: Judith Smith
  • Informal Showing: AXIS dancers share materials developed with Sigman
  • Informal Showing: AXIS dancers share materials developed with Sigman
  • Informal Showing: AXIS dancers share materials developed with Sigman
  • Beth Gill leads AXIS dancers
  • Joel Brown
  • Beth Gill and Joel Brown
  • Beth Gill and AXIS dancers
  • Beth Gill and AXIS dancers
  • Informal Showing: AXIS shares material developed with Beth Gill
  • Informal Showing: AXIS shares material developed with Beth Gill
  • Informal Showing: AXIS shares material developed with Beth Gill
  • Informal Showing: AXIS shares material developed with Beth Gill

Collaborators in residence: Judith Smith [AXIS director], Nichole Canuso [choreographer], Jill Sigman [choreographer], Beth Gill [choreographer], Nick Brentley, Joel Brown, Marc Brew, Julie Crothers, Sonsheree Giles, Sophie Stanley [dancers], and Sonya Delwaide [mentor].

Free to Rep | April 1 – 21, 2007

AXIS Dance Company

AXIS Dance Company, comprised of dancers with and without disabilities (physically-integrated), focused on movement and choreographic exploration with four choreographers who had not previously been commissioned by AXIS. Participating choreographers were selected through a competitive proposal and review process.  Margaret Jenkins and Victoria Marks joined the choreographers in residence and served as mentors to the project. 

The research residency culminated with a day-long symposium on repertory development in the U.S. The primary goal of the program was to encourage artistic exploration in a supportive environment void of the usual time and financial constraints surrounding many commissioning structures, providing an opportunity for AXIS to formally explore the best ways to orient new choreographers to the company.

Artistic Director Judith Smith brought three of the four choreographers back to create work on AXIS which has toured across the company.

Kate Weare was commissioned by the company to create Foregone, which premiered in 2007. Alex Ketley was commissioned to create To Color Me Different and Vessel, both of which premiered in 2008. Rodney Bell and Sonsheree Giles received Isadora Duncan Dance Awards for their performance of To Color Me Different and performed the piece on So You Think You Can Dance in 2011. In 2010, AXIS premiered ODD, a full-length triptych choreographed by Shinichi Iova-Koga in collaboration with AXIS, his company inkBoat, and composer Joan Jeanrenaud.    

AXIS was presented at FSU's performing arts festival Seven Days of Opening Nights in the year following their residency, where they presented Kate Weare's work in its final form to the local community.

Shinichi Iova-Koga, Alex Ketley, and Kate Weare each returned to MANCC in subsequent years as Choreographic Fellows. 

AXIS Company members in residence: Judith Smith [AXIS Artistic Director], Rodney Bell, Lisa Bufano, Margaret Cromwell, Sonsheree Giles, Alice Sheppard

Choreographers: Isabel Croxatto (Chile), Shinichi Iova-Koga, Alex Ketley, Kate Weare

Choreographic Mentors: Margaret Jenkins, Victoria Marks

Convening Participants: Rita Felciano [Writer/Critic], Jane Forde [National Dance Project/New England Foundation for the Arts], Mary Luft [Tigertail Productions], Jodee Nimerichter [American Dance Festival], Douglas Sonntag [National Endowment for the Arts], Todd Wingate [University of California Riverside], Jawole Willa Jo Zollar [Urban Bush Women]

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Okwui Okpokwasili

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