Among artists, choreographers have it pretty tough—their art requires not just space, but people. For disabled choreographers, those requirements can be even harder to meet. Is the (probably expensive) space accessible? Do they have access to dancers, disabled or not? Can they afford to pay them? In June, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, AXIS Dance Company gave a group of disabled choreographers the gift of time, space and dancers in a weeklong program called Choreo-Lab. Spearheaded by artistic director Marc Brew, who served as a mentor along with co-facilitator Caroline Bowditch, the inaugural Choreo-Lab included seven choreographers and a physically integrated cast of 20 dancers.
When Chris Aiken and Angie Hauser talk about improvisation together, their ideas flow seamlessly—each building on the other as the two riff, arriving at conclusions all the more convincing because they are shared. They don't so much finish each other's sentences as continue them. As a listener, you find yourself agreeing that improvisation offers a blueprint for fully and ethically inhabiting the world; that dance should be part of core curricula throughout higher education. Their idealism is not only contagious—the energy of these two artists is more like an epidemic.
Hauser, a senior member and collaborator with Bebe Miller Company since 2000, has been described by The New Yorker as "a tremendous performer...who brings everything she has ever known about dance to the stage in a moment." Aiken, a performer and teacher grounded in the practice of improvisation for more than 30 years, collaborates with a network of other artists both nationally and internationally. He has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and his work has been commissioned by such prestigious venues as Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, the former Dance Theater Workshop in New York City and Bates Dance Festival. Together, Hauser and Aiken are breaking new ground at Smith College, where they share a teaching position in the Department of Dance.
Finding (and Creating) the Right Opportunity
"It was so funny because we weren't looking for a job," says Hauser about their arrival at Smith seven years ago, "and it was only one job, but we decided to apply, just to present to them everything we had to offer and that they should hire us together. And, indeed they did, so we split a position in half." They teach classes both separately and as a team.
At the time, improvisation was not a focus of the department. Once they began teaching, however, "the students really resonated with it. Particularly the graduate students," says Aiken.
To read the full article, pick up a copy of DT's September issue here.