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AXIS at UW World Series: First Impressions

October 15, 2013

AXIS Dance Company’s dancers, Sonsheree Giles and Joel Brown. [Photo by David DeSilva.]

Imagine. A dancer paralyzed from the waist down, Joel Brown, sits motionless in a recliner, surrounded by darkness. His cue hits, the spotlight illuminates his presence and the piece begins. While his lower body remains still for the majority of the performance, the upper body works wonders. His dance embodies both physical and spiritual strength as his long muscular arms propel his actions in small but direct movements during his solo.

However, once he is joined by a female dancer, Sonsherée Giles, the dance becomes even more intense and intimate. Giles, an animated miniature redhead, moves effortlessly around the armchair, whether suspended in Brown’s arms or sinking into the recliner, becoming one with her partner.

This was “Full of Words,” the beginning of the AXIS Dance Company‘s debut performance in Seattle at the opening night of this year’s UW Dance World Series on October 3rd. It was a beautifully orchestrated piece and my first introduction to the UW World Series. I instantly regretted waiting until my senior year to open this for myself.

I heard about the program before but never had the chance to go whether it was for financial reasons or for the lack of time. I now know that I missed out on a great opportunity to watch artists from all over the world perform right next door.

Before the show, I didn’t know what I was walking into. AXIS Dance Company differs from any other dance groups because they integrate dancers both with and without disabilities. The San Francisco based company was founded in 1987 and since then has toured around the U.S. and abroad winning numerous awards for their innovative and integrated modern dance. I had never seen or heard of anything like that before and was excited to discover what AXIS had in store.

It was not just a modern dance performance, but an exploration of how differently-abled bodies can come together in a unique translation of feelings and emotions. Especially memorable was the second act, when Brown, this time in a wheelchair, performed opposite Sebastian Grubb, a dancer without disabilities and the choreographer of the piece, who sat in a stationary chair for the dance. They moved in synchronized motion mirroring each other’s gestures, actions, and emotions in a journey to understand one another.

Having a dance background myself, it was very interesting to see the choreography adapt to each body type and find ways to connect the dancers in this sensual and creative way. Everyone in the audience was in complete awe of the performance. During each pause or intermission I could hear them behind me, already making plans to attend the next performance.

Axis - Sebastian Grubb and Joel Brown (photo by David DeSilva)

AXIS dancers Joel Brown (left) and Sebastian Grubb leap off the ground. [Photo by David DeSilva.]

However, it was a bit disappointing to see how few young students were present in the audience. The biggest reason might be the fact that regular tickets cost anywhere from $30 to $50 and not every student can afford it. But this year students are in luck! For the first time all student tickets for all UW World Series performances cost just $10. The only downside is that student seats are all located on the sides of the auditorium and the balcony.

Though AXIS has left the building, there is so much more the World Series will offer this year. Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan is coming in the spring, bringing with them three and a half tons of golden rice to dance in, Portuguese Fado singer Mariza will be here late October, and the Parisian Modigliani Quartet will join the World Series in November. There is something for everyone!

As Michelle Witt, the executive director of Meany Hall and the artistic director of UW World Series says, when attending the World Series “withhold judgment and come with an open mind. Come multiple times as very artist is so unique. Be prepared to walk away being entertained, challenged, or inspired.”

And with that, I suggest you grab tickets to at least one of this year’s performances now since they are selling out pretty fast. It’s affordable and close to home and all you have to do is spare an evening to dive into the unknown. I know I will!

AXIS The Narrowing  (photo by ElizabethVienneau)

A scene from AXIS Dance Company’s “The Narrowing.” [Photo by Elizabeth Vienneau.]

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