AXIS Dance Company is comprised of disabled and non-disabled dancers working together to challenge misconceptions about the art form. Rehearsal Director Sonsherée Giles and company dancer DeMarco Sleeper will hold a virtual master class hosted by the Harvard Dance Center on Wednesday. The event, part of the Harvard Dance Center’s Fall 2020 Visiting Artists Series, is supported by the Office for the Arts and is open to the Harvard and Boston-area community. Members of Oakland, Calif., company will also meet with undergraduates for a “Sip & Chat” discussion event on Thursday. AXIS Artistic Director Marc Brew spoke to the Gazette about how the company has adapted to the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of building artistic communities online.
Gazette: What does the collaboration between disabled and non-disabled dancers bring to the art?
Brew: It all comes down to access. That’s been at the essence of everything that we’ve done through all of AXIS’s 34 years of history: to look at the possibilities and to show the creative excellence of work that’s created with disabled and non-disabled dancers. There needs to be that connection and that integration of disabled and non-disabled dancers. We’re bringing different perspectives to the art form, and I think it’s helping to push the form of dance forward. Our role is also one of advocacy and education through the work that we do, like our engagement work and wraparound work around master classes, teacher trainings, workshops, residencies, and support of disabled artists. Advocating for people with disabilities to have access to dance and dance training has always been at the core of what we do.
Gazette: What are some of the misconceptions that people have about disabled dancers?
Brew: As a dancer with a disability myself [who] also trained as a non-disabled dancer in a very formal, classical, and contemporary dance training setting, I experienced both sides of the fence, so to speak. Straightaway, people thought I couldn’t dance. There is also a fear element of people not wanting to see people with disabilities move onstage. In one of the early reviews of AXIS, somebody had written that no one wants to see suffering onstage, because people have this idea that disability is about suffering. In the world of classical ballet, everyone’s striving for the so-called “perfect body” and looking the same. What we rejoice in and are very proud of is that through difference, there is beauty and that’s what we bring, and how we collaborate together. We’re not trying to be the same.