Dancers Prepare to Leave “Traces”

This weekend the Studio Theater on Lone Mountain is set to become the stage for an eclectic landscape of dance and performance. “Traces” will feature the works of guest choreographers and performers like AXIS dance company, Tandy Beal, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Randee Paufve as well as USF dance faculty Amie Dowling and Brenton Cheng. The Foghorn had the chance to talk to two of this year’s guests: Judith Smith of Axis Dance Company and Tandy Beal.

Judith Smith, artistic director and executive producer of AXIS, can say just why AXIS is so unique in the world of dance. “What really sets us apart from other contemporary dance companies is the fact that some of our dancers are disabled and some are not disabled. I would say our movement vocabulary and the work that we create is very different than what a standard dance company could do.”

In an AXIS show, wheelchair-bound performers dance across the stage and one-legged dancers perform full routines. While some may view these disabilities as a hindrance, Judith argues that they are actually freeing in the way that they create new ideas about what dance can be.

According to Smith, AXIS’s work has transitioned throughout the years. “For AXIS in general, most of our work was very directly about disability. After 10 years of working collaboratively just within the company, we split apart, since some of us felt that we needed to branch out. We thought we could say more about ability and more about dance by not always addressing disability as a theme.”

As for the upcoming show, Ms. Smith offers her thoughts: “It is a very sexy, driving piece of work. I think that it explores relationships in a way that some of our work has not been able to reach. It’s a very sensual, emotional, driving piece.”

While some of guest artists in “Traces” are working only with company members, other choreographers like Tandy Beal, artistic director of the Tandy Beal Dance Company, are collaborating with students from USF’s dance program. Beal has had a long and varied career including doing circus work for more than a decade and choreographing Tim Burton’s clay creations in “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Together with Rebecca Blair, Beal has taught USF dancers “Compass Rose,” part of a larger work called “Here after Here.” Of working with students Beal said, “The students at USF are so intelligent, very focused…very purposeful. I love working with them.”
While “Here after Here” focuses on what people think happens after we die, Beal says that “Compass Rose” is more of a celebration dance, “This dance has a more of a kinetic vitality: An expression of the forward momentum of our being and kind of a joyful movement through time and space. A compass rose is that little emblem on every map that shows you where north, south, east and west are and I named it that because, partly, the dance has a geographical [element] in it and it has a sense of directionality in there.

One of the challenges Beal has faced in staging this work at USF is adapting the dance, which was originally created to be viewed from the front in a proscenium theater setting, to better suit the three-quarter view of Studio Theater. The intimate experience that the small black-box theater creates will also add a different dynamic to the way dancers and audience members relate. “I think that the most difficult thing for all performers is that when you’re performing with [audience members] one foot away from you, as they will be there, that’s a unique performing situation. There’s no privacy in a way.”

For Beal, creating dance inevitably leads back to instilling a sense of wonder in others. “I think you lose your capacity to experience life if you lose your sense of wonder.” Although Beal and AXIS have two very different approaches when it comes to creating dance, it’s worth noticing that Smith echoes Beal’s sentiment about creating something that will awe audiences. “You really have to see this company to begin to understand what we’re about, or even believe it,” she says.

“Traces” will be performed Friday and Saturday, Dec. 5 & 6 at 8:00 p.m.
Studio Theater on Lone Mountain
$5 with USF ID
$10 General Admission
For the full interview with Tandy Beal and more about AXIS dance visit

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