Marc Brew, artistic director of Axis Dance, on being and dancing

Axis Dance Company Dancers (L to R) Lani Dickinson, Liv Schaffer, James Bowen, Carina Ho, Julie Crothers. Photo by David DeSilva
Marc Brew in 'For Now, I am...'. Photo by Kristyna Kashvili.

Marc Brew in ‘For Now, I am…’. Photo by Kristyna Kashvili.

Marc Brew “feels a need to make dance”, and that need has taken him all around the world. He first studied as a dancer with the Victorian College of the Arts, and the Australian Ballet School, before performing with The Australian Ballet and State Theatre Ballet Company of South Africa. “Dance is a part of who I am,” says Brew. “I communicate and express myself through dance to tell stories about being.” Brew is currently artistic director of California’s Axis Dance Company, an international renowned repertory company, collaborating with leading contemporary choreographers. The company also happens to work with dancers who are disabled. 

Whilst performing as a professional ballet dancer with PACT in South Africa, a motor vehicle accident left Brew with spinal injury. “I returned to Australia to undergo my rehabilitation,” he recalls. “I was told I had a spinal cord injury at C6-C7 and would never walk again; I was paralysed from the chest down.” He underwent extensive rehabilitation. “I was used to being injured as a dancer, so I took it on as a challenge. My first goal was to get back in the gym and the pool to build up my fitness and strength.”

Brew had to develop a new philosophy and aesthetics for dance. “Although I couldn’t walk, stand, leap, point my foot or développé my leg anymore, I still felt like a dancer,” he says. “Although my physicality changed, the dancer was still within me. It was then when I realised I had to change my own perception of what a dancer was, and what it meant for me to dance. I could still express myself though movement, share my artistry through dance, I just had to find other ways to explore my physicality and what I could do. I started to look at finding solutions, rather than focus on the problems, and to use the idea of restriction to create new and interesting possibilities for movement. Both how I could move with my changed form, using my wheelchair, and also out of the chair on the floor, or being partnered and dancing with others.”

Axis Dance Company Members Carina Ho, Julie Crothers, Lani Dickinson, James Bowen. Photo by David DeSilva; clothing courtesy of Oaklandish

Axis Dance Company Members Carina Ho, Julie Crothers, Lani Dickinson, James Bowen. Photo by David DeSilva; clothing courtesy of Oaklandish.

This new perspective took Brew to New York to study with Kitty Lunn, also a disabled dancer, at Infinity Dance Theatre, to “explore the idea of translation and how to take existing dance techniques such as classical ballet and how to apply them to my body.” He also attended a summer intensive with the UK’s extraordinary Candoco Dance Company. He was invited to join the company and danced and taught with the Candoco for six years. Upon leaving Candoco, he founded Marc Brew Company in London, and went on to collaborate with and direct several dance companies in the UK, before becoming artistic director of Axis Dance Company. 

Brew’s most recent work, Radical Impact, is his first piece with Axis Dance as artistic director. He made a work with the company in 2011 as a freelance artist. “Radical Impact explores what it means to be human, investigating themes around identity,” he explains. The work was presented in Oakland and in San Francisco, and drew on “each dancer’s unique experiences and how their stories can be told through the medium of dance,” says Brew. “We looked at how we identify in the world and how others identify us and box us in to categories.  It explored how we break these barriers to be true to ourselves, and how sharing difference brings unity.”

Brew was recently in Australia to run a masterclass with inclusive theatre company Rawcus. “Disabled people have unique stories to tell and a different perspective on the world because of lived experiences and challenges,” he says. “This influences our making and the creative process, how and why we make work. It’s honest, it’s real, it’s diverse, it’s not pretending, and people relate to the work on a human level.”

To find out more about Marc Brew or Axis Dance Company, visit www.axisdance.org or www.marcbrew.com.

By Tamara Searle of Dance Informa.

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