AXIS Dance Company challenges the idea of a contemporary dancer


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Two dancers sit side by side on stage staring into the crowd as if they are waiting for the audience to perform.

This is the opening moment of  The Narrowing, one of the three works being presented by AXIS Dance Company.

Sebastian Grubb, the choreographer of the piece and four-year member of AXIS, described The Narrowing as a duet in which the movement is derived from the two dancers, one of whom is in a wheelchair.

“[The piece] addresses the dynamics between the performers and the audience in terms of expectations of us as performers and in terms of the objectification of the dancers,” Grubb said.

As the choreographer and one of the dancers in the piece, Grubb had to figure out how to get the same posturing and hand movements as his collaborating dancer, Joel Brown, who is in a wheelchair.

“It calls for the choreographer to be ready and surprised at the unique possibilities,” Grubb said. “I look at the dancer’s movement patterns and bodies aside from having my own foundation of ideas and what I want the dance to be about.”

The Narrowing along with Full of Words and what if would you will have Iowa premières in a performance hosted by Hancher. AXIS will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. today and Friday in North Hall’s Space/Place. Admission is $10 for students and youth, $31.50 for seniors, and $35 for the general public.

Judith Smith, the artistic director of AXIS, said the company brings people with different physical abilities together to dance.

“I think what AXIS offers all of the dancers is to do inspiring work that changes the way people look at dance and ability,” she said. “We are able to do things a company of non-disabled dancers can’t do because the range of movement is radically expanded.”

Smith is careful in selecting the choreographers for each work but tends to gravitate toward those who enjoy working collaboratively.

“I think partnering is a strong part of what we do, and it excites choreographers working with us,” she said. “They have to learn about what each of us can do and then have to learn how the non-disabled dancers fit with us.”

Hancher officials were most interested in the company’s idea of physically integrated dance and working with all types of bodies, so that is why they chose to present AXIS at the UI.

Erin Donohue, the Hancher education programming director, said the company challenges the preconceived notions of what disability is and can be.

“The company is a very powerful example of how all kinds of abilities can be used in a dance company and life in general,” she said. “It is very good at breaking down what people typically think of as dancers — it makes you realize your own assumptions about dance and movement.”

Donohue, a graduate of the UI Dance Department, said the approach of AXIS is so different from many companies because it works with each individual body as a distinct tool for creation.

“Everybody is so drastically different, and instead of trying to force dancers to look similar, AXIS celebrates the differences among individuals and uses those unique characteristics to create dances,” she said. “Its work is playful, lively, and experimental because of this.”

AXIS Dance Company
When: 7:30 p.m. today and Friday
Where: North Hall Space/Place
Admission: $10 students and youth, $31.50 seniors, $35 general public

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