The dance troupe Axis took the audience by storm Saturday night at Connecticut College's Palmer Auditorium: Not only did it serve up the usual dance prowess in defying the limitations of the human body, but the five-person ensemble did it with two of the dancers in wheelchairs.
The ensemble defies the norms of dance, and at first one is curious to see how these dancers will fulfill their role. But that's before viewing the unbridled skill of Rodney Bell, who whizzes in his wheelchair, turns on a dime, and is every inch an artist. It is exhilarating to watch this performer who infuses his dance with quicksilver movement, emotion, and rock solid commitment.
At times, one forgets the dancers are in wheelchairs, and at other times, such as in David Dorfman's piece, "Light Shelter," the unusual abilities are poked at playfully in text spoken by the dancers.
"Hey, do you want to go for a walk? You can walk, I can roll." Pause. "I can roll, can you roll?" Butler teasingly calls out with a lilting New Zealand accent. The dancers race, Bell in his wheelchair and Sonsheree Giles rolling gamely on the floor like a tumbler. It is easy to see who will win.
"Light Shelter" is a multilayered work that used all five dancers, adorned with a bit of classic Dorfman humor. The dance also probes human frailty and the sanctuary in which we seek to protect it.
One powerful moment is with Sonsheree Giles, who is lifted between Bell and Alice Sheppard, the two "disabled" dancers. But it is Giles who is rendered motionless, frozen in a full-bodied type arabesque and passed between the two, her fingers curled up as if in a state of rigor mortis.
Like much of the work, the moment challenges the idea of who is capable, as well as the perception of limited capacity.
Giles stands out in this troupe as an extraordinary dancer. Whether she is on top of a table or under it as if stuck inside a picture frame, this tiny woman with blazing red hair is a fearless dancer and faultlessly fluid. Add to this her ability to partner with a generous soulfulness and she is riveting — matched best with Bell in their well-tuned duet "To Color Me Different." A real treat of the evening, this dance choreographed by Alex Ketley exemplified the artistry of this unique company.