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Review: AXIS dance troupe inspirational, but with mixed results

Review: AXIS dance troupe inspirational, but with mixed results

Review: Anyone can dance. That was the inspirational message delivered Saturday afternoon at Proctor

Anyone can dance.

That was the inspirational message delivered Saturday afternoon at Proctors by AXIS Dance Company.

Four dancers, two able-bodied and two disabled, from the Oakland, Calif.-based ensemble presented a program that celebrated how divergent talents can contribute and merge into a singular and sometimes powerful artistic vision.

That was the idea. Unfortunately, one of the dancers was injured. Thus, the panorama of their intentions was clouded and incomplete. The obstacle became obvious in the first work, “The Reflective Surface.” Choreographed by Amy Seiwert, the dance was reduced to excerpts. As a result, the overall feel was stilted, not seamless.

It began with the dancers seated in chairs, with dancer Joel Brown in his own wheelchair. Aside from squirming and flopping over in the seat, not much happened, giving audiences a dim first impression. But “Reflective Surface” warmed up with two central duets featuring the paralyzed Brown, who has strength, grace and amazing control of his chair. He was paired with Sebastian Grubb in a push-and-pull tango. Brown and his chair glided along, only coming to a rest when encountering Grubb, who would brace Brown’s back, shoulders and arms as support for hovering handstands.

In a subsequent duet, Brown also held up Sonsheree Giles, who floated along with him in his chair.

The piece tumbled back into the doldrums with the final quartet, which played out like an ill-conceived game of musical chairs. The problem here was the newest dancer to join the company, Tanja Erhart, who is missing one of her legs, looked unsure of the choreography. It torpedoed the timing of what was likely a light-hearted finale.

Yet even if Erhart knew her role, “Reflective Surface” added up to be bland.

The program also featured a structure improvisation by Giles, who also acts as AXIS’ associate director. The piece, “Following Up,” was originally created as a site-specific, outdoor work. And that is where is should have stayed, as the theater was not the optimum venue for it.

Giles’ love of birds was evident in the dance, in which the four dancers banked though the space like a flock of sparrows. As they swooped, soared and ran (or rolled) in sync, the quartet established a dreamy sense of lightness and flight.

Better still was Grubb’s “The Narrowing,” in which he claimed to explore the role of performer and audience, with a few jabs at the critics in the seats. Featuring Grubb and Brown, the dance started out in silence. With the two seated side-by-side, the two moved as one — looking to the right, looking at the audience and staring at their uplifted hands.

When the music took hold, their mirror-like dance ended abruptly, and their energies turned pugnacious. Whether hopping, chasing or overturning each other chairs, the two exuded a taut chemistry that kept eyes focused on their next move.

In the end, Grubb punched a hole in Brown’s Proctors program, tossed up ripped pieces of newsprint and sauntered away.

While the meaning and their relationship was ambiguous, their partnership was fascinating.

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