Axis Dance Company “Onward & Upward”

October 28, 2017
Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, Oakland
New Director: New Directions

Mark Brew is the new Artistic Director and Choreographer for the Axis Dance Company. Judith Smith, Founder and Director has retired (though she’s still dancing) after 30 years.

The current company of six dancers presented choreography for “Onward & Upward” with works by Stephen Petronio, Amy Seiwert and the new director, Mark Brew.

Smith was one of Petronio’s dancers in a 2001 excerpt from “Secret Ponies,” soundscore by David Linton (interpolating Janis Joplin and the Gilberto family). The text of the soundscore tells of many wishes for the five ladies, I.e., “a color TV,” “ a Mercedes-Benz.” The dance proceeds with longing gestures into the spaces as well as between and among the women. It’s a charming piece.

Seiwert’s “The Reflective Surface” (2013) is to an original score by Darren Johnston. It, like Brew’s work that followed, uses the current vocabulary of contemporary dance: tight groupings, many lifts and falls, much body contact … and for this company, extraordinary use of the dancers in wheelchairs. Outstanding (to some extent all the dancers are) is Lani Dickinson whose small compact body receives and responds to be lifted and carried with much grace.

The other women dancers are Carina Ho, Yuko Monden: the men: James Bowen, Scotty Hardwig, and Dwayne Scheuneman. Whether they are physically disabled, in wheelchairs or not, these dancers accomplish marvelous movement.

In Marc Brew’s 2017 “Radical Impact,” the dancers continued their presentation and exploration of the many ways bodies interact. Most notable for this reviewer was the men’s duet between Bowen and Hardwig. Unlike other more push/pull, act/react duets, theirs had a lyric quality to movement and interaction. More of this would make the dancing more dancerly and less acrobatic, less motivated by contact improvisation and more by other dance qualities.

The score by JooWan Kim was played live (and amplified) by a string quartet: Clare Armstrong (violin), Mia Nordi-Huffman (violin), Justine Prestion (viola), Evan Kahn (cello).

Congratulations to Axis Dance Company and best wishes for success.

Joanna G. Harris