Sonsherée Giles and Rodney Bell, two dancers with local AXIS Dance Company, will be featured on this week’s “So You Think You Can Dance” results show. AXIS’ primetime feature came because of a connection between a long-time AXIS fan and Nigel Lythgoe (the blonde Brit who taunts everyone with the old-fashioned dot matrix tickets to Las Vegas). Videos were shared, Lythgoe liked what he saw, and sass-bam-boom: he extended an invitation to the company to perform on the hit TV show.
Founded in 1987, AXIS began as a place for a group of dancers with and without disabilities to explore and create dance. I’ve seen AXIS in performance before, and even with that limited exposure, I wasn’t sure what I was watching.
When I spoke with inkboat‘s Shinichi Iova-Koga last year prior to his company’s collaboration with AXIS, he confirmed some of the differences in expectations, saying that, “I am constantly examining the issue of body connecting with the ground, and working with the AXIS dancers in wheelchairs has expanded my perspective of how that connection manifests through dance. I am also very interested in dancers developing the ability to sense without the use of our primary sensors, i.e. hands and eyes. The AXIS dancers who are in wheelchairs are living this attempt in a daily basis, never able to take for granted ease of mobility, the way most of us do. They are already navigating the world using sensitivities that most of us have left undeveloped.”
It’s a difference in sensing, of awareness of things around you, and expectations, which is thrilling, but how do I describe it without saying the wrong thing? I asked Giles to explain what mixed-ability dance is, as the idea of crutch or wheelchair-bound dancers may be foreign to many, and boy, did I get schooled.
Giles, who is also the company’s associate director, says, “The idea of anyone being crutch or wheel-chair bound is foreign to me, too. People are not bound to crutches or chairs–they use them, and in this case people using chairs are not just moving but dancing. We do not use the term mixed-ability dance because it implies some of the dancers have ability and some do not, which also suggests some of the ability is good and some of it not so good.”
Well, she definitely put me in my place. About AXIS, she continues, “AXIS Dance Company is a physically integrated contemporary dance company comprised of dancers with and without physical disabilities. We are able to create innovative movement that would not be the same if we were two dancers without disabilities or two dancers with disabilities. The integration aspect is important; it opens the door on diversity and what is possible between unique bodies.”
Giles will be performing on SYTYCD with Rodney Bell–unfortunately, he wasn’t available to answer questions along with her. Together, they’ll be performing “To Color Me Different”, a piece choreographed by Alex Ketley, that has won them rave reviews on multiple occasions.
Giles describes “To Color Me Different” as “a relationship between two people who love each other but can’t figure out how to be together–instead they thrash around and move through the passion, joy, anger, sadness and loss. I also think it happens to be two people that are stubborn and willful maybe that is why they can’t be together.”
What: AXIS Dance Company on SYTYCD Results Show
Where and When: Your local Fox affiliate/Thursday, June 30, 8PM
I asked what part of the piece she enjoys the most, but again, point to Giles. She says, “I love the whole piece in its entirety. I do not have a favorite part. It is an exciting dance to perform, and Rodney is an excellent partner. Each time we perform it we find new things to explore and new ways to take risks.”
Looking ahead to Thursday, she continues, “I think what I am looking forward to the most is dancing and sharing the performance with so many people that would not otherwise get to see this dance.”
For more information or to learn more about physically integrated dance, check out AXIS’ webpage, as well as its presence on Facebook, WordPress, YouTube, and Twitter. AXIS offers classes, workshops, and annual performances in the Bay Area.