Three dancers are sweating under their choreographer’s demanding eye. They turn, jump, and lean into each other, flowing across the room. The sound of bare feet mixes with the squeaking of rubber against the floor.
That’s the sound of dancer Joel Brown’s wheelchair. As he propels into a turn, the other dancers, Sonsheree Giles and Sebastian Grubb, match his movements, but on their feet. Then choreographer Marc Brew, who’s been watching from the front of the studio, glides over to the trio. He’s also in a wheelchair.
This is a rehearsal for AXIS Dance Company, a pioneer in a dance form it calls “physically integrated dance,” which uses both disabled and non-disabled dancers. Though AXIS has been around for more than 20 years, it’s still rare to see this kind of work.
The pulse of drums spills out onto the street from an upper window of the Malonga Casquelord Center for the Arts, a big Art Deco building in the Lakeside district of Oakland. Up on the third floor, a battery of eight drummers is lined up against one wall of a large dance studio, vibrating the air with their music.