The Atlantic

The Company Working to Make Dance More Inclusive

Opening its 30th season, AXIS has spent decades showing that performers with and without disabilities can make powerful work side by side.
Source: David DeSilva / AXIS Dance Company / The Atlantic / Zak Bickel

A few minutes into Alex Tetley’s 2008 dance To Color Me Different, two performers move quickly across the stage—the man gliding in reverse, the wheels of his chair in profile, and the woman sliding into a backward roll. She turns like a wheel, he rotates his chair’s wheel alongside her, and just like that, a simile merges with reality. The moment is a brief respite in this fraught duet, in which the dancers wrestle through an explosive intimacy, alternately yielding to their attraction and pushing apart in frustration. At one point, the man in the wheelchair pulls his partner into his lap. At another, she slowly flips his chair on its side so that he comes to rest on the floor, braced on one arm, under which she slides. The chair’s wheel spins in air.

is just one work that illustrates the creative possibilities of physically integrated dance—an approach where performers with and without disabilities perform side by side. The dancers who brought the piece to life, Rodney Bell and Shonsherée Giles, belonged to a group that wants to both fulfill and upend expectations about what the art form can be. Dance Company, which opened its 30th season this fall, is one of the oldest and most prominent physically tours nationally and internationally, commissions work from well-known contemporary choreographers, and has appeared several times on the Fox reality-competition show . But over the last two years in particular, has leapt forward into even more rigorous artistry, and into broader advocacy that makes inclusivity in dance more readily visible.

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