NYC choreographer Christiana Axelsen to create work during Carbondale residency |

NYC choreographer Christiana Axelsen to create work during Carbondale residency

Carla Jean Whitley
Christiana Axelsen is a graduate of the Merce Cunningham Professional Training Program, and her choreography has been presented in New York, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Seattle, San Francisco and abroad.
Mark Poucher |

Dance Initiative Artist in residence

Christiana Axelsen will be in residence at The Launchpad in Carbondale Jan. 28-Feb. 5. Join her for several classes that are open to the public. All events will take place at The Launchpad. Reserve space for the events at

All Levels Workshop

Feb. 5, 3-4:30 p.m., followed by a studio presentation of works in progress at 5 p.m.

Q-and-A to follow

Admission: $15 workshop, studio presentation free

CoMotion Company Dance Class

Jan. 29 and Feb. 5, 4-5:30 p.m.

Admission: $10

Carbondale is a center for creativity, and its opportunities extend beyond city — and even state — lines. Dance Initiative, which is located in The Launchpad in the Carbondale Creative District, invites dancers from around the country to work in its space.

Saturday, New York City choreographer Christiana Axelsen begins the organization’s first residency of the year. She’ll be followed by two national and a regional artist in residence.

Axelsen has performed previously with Molissa Fenley, a 2015 Dance Initiative artist in residence, and has completed residencies around the world. While in Carbondale, she will work alongside former colleagues Sumi Clements and Meg Madorin (a 2016 Dance Initiative artist in residence). Axelsen will teach several public classes during her residency, and she has previously taught at New York University, Mount Holyoke College, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival’s community program and other locations.

We spoke with Axelsen about what she hopes to accomplish during her residency, and how her work will be influenced by Carbondale.

Post Independent: How did you come to be connected with Dance Initiative?

Christiana Axelsen: This is a funny story. I went to college with Carbondale-based dancer Dana Ganssle Ellis. Back in 2012, I happened to sit next to Peter Gilbert at her wedding. He told me all about his vision for the Dance Initiative, which he likened to a potential “Jacob’s Pillow West.” I remember being instantly captivated. The world needs more people who love dance as much as Peter loves dance. I kept in touch with Peter over the following years as he and the Dance Initiative acquired their gorgeous space and grew their programs. I came out to Carbondale last year with New York-based choreographer Molissa Fenley for one of the first Dance Initiative residencies. I am honored that Peter and Deborah asked me to come back this year for a residency for my own work.

PI: You’ll offer a community class in February. Is that appropriate for all experience or age levels? What should attendees expect?

CA: I really enjoy the simple act of moving through space with a group of people. I hope the class in February is filled with folks of all ages with different experiences with dance. It feels like a particularly important moment to gather together and connect face-to-face. People should expect good music, good company and an imaginative, hopefully kind of magical, physical experience.

PI: How does an artist-in-residence experience compare with your regular work?

CA: The finances and logistics of making work in New York are particularly difficult right now. Space and time are precious resources. In response, residencies have become the backbone of the creative process for many contemporary dance artists. I spend a lot of time in out-of-town residencies both with other choreographers and with my own work.

In many ways, I think this has been a fantastic shift for the dance community as it brings artists from different communities into dialogue. The last residency I had was in Istanbul. I worked with two fantastic Turkish dancers to create a duet called “Fall Lower” that I will be building upon during my time in Carbondale, this time with two Colorado-based dancers. This cross-cultural dialogue and exchange is often delightfully surprising and makes more interesting and varied work.

PI: Does place inform your choreography in any way? I’m curious about whether this setting will influence you in a way that’s different than New York.

CA: I think both place and culture will inform my work during my time in Colorado. Carbondale is beautiful. It has an open, grand sense of space. I find I am much more productive when I am inspired by the landscape around me. But more importantly, I am interested in sharing the work-in-process with people in the community and letting those conversations and reflections shape the development of the piece.

PI: I know that, in the past, you’ve explored the intersection of theater and dance. What appeals to you about each of these art forms?

CA: I happen to love contemporary dance that lacks narrative or a defined emotional trajectory — where the experience of watching is like looking at the shift of light and space through a kaleidoscope. My imagination travels to such surprising places when it is given total freedom to roam.

On the other hand, my husband is an actor and he has introduced me to the magic and craft of theater. When we first moved to New York, he took me to see Mark Rylance playing Richard the III. Rylance somehow made the highly crafted language of Shakespeare feel spontaneous. Watching him felt like falling. I disappeared into the story and experienced it as real.

As a choreographer I became interested in the different experiences a viewer has watching narrative, language and relationship and watching more abstract, pure dance. I think it is interesting to create work with that spectrum in mind.

With “Fall Lower,” the work I’m developing in Carbondale, I’m starting with images of imbalance in relationships where the person being controlled is initiating and demanding their own dependence. I hope that physicalizing those ideas with dancers will involve both interesting manifestations of relationship and interesting abstract visual rhythms, therefore prompting a wide range of audience experiences.

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