AXIS and inkBoat Redefine Dance

Review by Claudia Bauer

What’s in a name? AXIS, the name of Oakland’s renowned physically integrated contemporary dance company, plays on the turning axes of wheels and on accessibility; before it formed in 1987, world-class opportunities for dancers with disabilities were few. For choreographers like Joe Goode, Margaret Jenkins, Sonya Delwaide, and now Shinichi Iova-Koga, AXIS Dance Company also means access to uncharted dimensions of creativity. “We realized early on that instead of having disabled dancers in the company being a limitation, it actually opened up this huge potential for movement and partnering and ensemble work,” said artistic director Judith Smith. Combining dancers in wheelchairs and dancers on foot, AXIS achieves speed, fluidity, inventiveness, and freedom that other companies can’t match.

AXIS “presents a completely different body than I’ve been working with, and that gives us a whole new series of investigations that we can get into,” said Iova-Koga, choreographer of ODD, a new evening-length piece inspired by the moody, figurative paintings of Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum and performed by an ensemble of dancers from AXIS and Iova-Koga’s award-winning company inkBoat.

“In [Nerdrum’s] paintings, I see a lot of correlation between landscape and body; the land and the body are tied together,” he said. “It’s about, ‘How does this image work in your body?’ And for different people, it’s different things.” Dancers roll on the floor, arch over the arc of a rolling wheel, fall and rise, and mix aggressive gestures with Butoh-like specificity, creating evocative imagery in each passing moment. A resonant, rhythmic score, written and performed live by cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, a founding member of Kronos Quartet, and Dohee Lee, a master of Korean pungmul drumming and vocals, carries the movement.

 Intense and at times unsettling, ODD “pushes all of us as dancers,” said Alice Sheppard. “Working with images, sound, and the live music … has created movement landscapes that speak to all of our senses.” AXIS member Rodney Bell concurs: “Shinichi has really deepened my passion for dance by challenging how I investigate what fires or fuels my dance movements.”

For audiences, AXIS grants access to superb movement, original artistry, and eye-opening perspectives. Dancer Sonsherée Gilessummed it up: “AXIS challenges stereotypes regarding what is dance, who can dance, and what does that body look like that is dancing? We continue to redefine dance.”

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