>Talented, trusting and nontraditional: AXIS Dance Company

>By Molly F. McGill Special to the Sun Journal “I think it’s important to keep pushing the boundaries in any art form."

So says Judith Smith, artistic director of the California-based AXIS Dance Company, a ground-breaking contemporary dance company made up of dancers both with and without disabilities.

For more than two decades, they have challenged the traditional definitions of what contemporary dance and dancers are, and can be, by creating and exploring new movement through physically integrated dance.

“We’re not a wheelchair dance company. We’re not a disabled dance company. We’re a contemporary dance company. We do things within our company that other companies can not, and it completely broadens the palette of dance,” said Smith.

AXIS has been credited with expanding the vocabulary of contemporary dance through its innovative movement. By incorporating dancers with different abilities, it is able to create new shapes, explore space and move in nontraditional ways, bringing a unique and exciting aspect to the stage of contemporary dance.

The innovative dance troupe will perform Friday and Saturday, July 30-31, as part of the Bates Dance Festival.

“There’s a lot of trust and a lot of risk taking that happens in our company,” said Sonsheree Giles, a five-year dance member of AXIS. “When I work with Judy who uses a power chair, I can push off and perch and fly through space a little differently or with more momentum; it’s a different or extended way of partnering. It opened me up and helped me to fall in love with dance all over again.”

Challenging stereotypes to help broaden the definition of dance has not been easy.

At first, dance critics were skeptical as to whether the performances could actually be considered dance or if it was a form of therapy. Through educational and outreach services, including countless seminars, residencies, workshops and demonstrations, the company has taken its work across the nation and overseas, earning numerous accolades and helping to bring light — and acceptance — to the developing genre.

AXIS has gained the respect of the dance community, in part, because of its proven cutting-edge performances involving a number of world-renown choreographers, designers and composers. The company uses commissioned work and in-house and guest choreographers to create its touring repertory. It currently has more than 60 repertory works, two evening-length pieces and two works aimed at younger audiences. AXIS has also been commissioned to create pieces for several different dance festivals, including the Bates Dance Festival back in 2003.

Returning to the Bates stage seven years later, AXIS will present three new pieces: "Light Shelter" by well-known choreographer David Dorfman, "Vessel" created by Alex Ketley and "A Room with No View" by Sonya Delwaide.

“Our work really lends itself to a lot of different audiences,” said Smith. “Our repertory is very theatrical, very physical with really, really good dancing and (people) are going to see a vocabulary of dancing that they probably didn’t even know exists.”

Go and do: WHAT: AXIS Dance Company lecture/demonstration WHEN & WHERE: 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 26, Alumni Gym, Bates College ADMISSION: Free

WHAT: AXIS Dance Company performance WHEN & WHERE: 8 p.m. Friday, July 30, Schaeffer Theatre, Bates College A question-and-answer session with the artists will follow. TICKETS: $24/$12 for seniors and students

WHAT: AXIS Dance Company performance WHEN & WHERE: 8 p.m. Saturday, July 31, Schaeffer Theatre, Bates College A preperformance lecture, "Inside Dance," with dance writer Debra Cash will begin at 7:30 p.m. TICKETS: $24, $12 seniors/students FOR TICKETS: Call 786-6161 from 1 to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday