There’s only one reason to see AXIS Dance Company, which opened the UW World Dance Series’ new season on Thursday, and that’s dancer-choreographer Sebastian Grubb’s duet “The Narrowing.”
Grubb is a key player in AXIS, an Oakland-based “physically integrated” dance troupe which matches disabled performers with fully abled contemporary dancers.
In “The Narrowing,” Grubb, seated in a stationary chair, is paired with Joel Brown, who’s paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair. You might think Brown would be at a physical disadvantage against Grubb, but that’s not the case.
With his rangy torso and long muscular arms, Brown is a powerhouse. He knows exactly how to use his strength and his uncanny sense of balance, whether he’s doing an impeccably controlled slow-motion wheelie or engaging in some serious rough-and-tumble with Grubb. Grubb, with his sturdy, compact physique, is no slouch either. At one point he lifts Brown — wheelchair and all.
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For 12 minutes, both men move in parallel, tightly mirroring each other’s gestures, which keep gaining in intensity. At certain moments, Brown’s wheelchair gives him a speed/glide advantage that makes Grubb look gravity-bound by contrast. In other passages, Grubb is clearly the freer agent.
“The Narrowing,” with admirable rigor, narrows the gap between ability and disability. It’s just one item on the program, however, and the shortest one at that.
The evening’s opener, Marc Brew’s “Full of Words,” suggests a domestic tableau: kitchen table on the left, bathtub at center rear, La-Z-Boy and floor-lamp on the right. Brown occupies the La-Z-Boy, which serves as both his cage and his jungle gym.
Emily Eifler, who relies on a forearm crutch to keep her balance, is paired in acrobalancing antics with tiny dynamo Sonsherée Giles, under, on top and around the kitchen table. Grubb and Juliana Monin, both fully abled, use the tub as a prop that lets them cantilever this way and that.
The trouble is that Brew, shifting focus back and forth between one part of this household and another, never builds much of a narrative arc. All the performers have their moments — Brown and Giles, especially. But the moments just don’t add up.
Victoria Marks’ “what if would you,” the last item on the program, is a full-fledged fiasco. You can’t call it dance. Instead, it’s an effort at community outreach, in which performers invite members of the audience, both disabled and not, onstage for some simple hand-holding and arm movements.
Still, a good number of people cheered at its end. Kudos for good intentions?
“The Narrowing” aside, this has to be the weakest program I’ve ever seen at Meany.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org