Disability is often characterized as a lack that requires elaborate compensations: prostheses, apparatuses, mechanisms, and manners.
For Oakland's AXIS Dance Company -- now in its 27th year as a physically integrated contemporary dance company -- minimalism is the mode for their newest program, on view April 11-13 at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts.
The program includes a historic staging of Yvonne Rainer's Trio A, a 1966 work that exemplifies the theories she expounded in her terse 1965 "No Manifesto." That piece is a 13-line statement that insists dance be stripped of all its indulgences: no to spectacle, virtuosity, style, even "moving and being moved." Without these supports, dance was reduced -- or clarified -- into pure movement, without the need to indicate psychology, drama, or any motive other than its own existence.
In the rendition retitled Trio A Pressured #X (AXIS Dance by Linda K. Johnson), the piece is a solo performed in canon by four dancers: two men and two women, two in wheelchairs and two on legs. Danced in silence, the movements are not particularly beautiful, executed without inflection by dancers who never make eye contact with the viewer. The motion is continuous and covers the entire space of the stage. The dancers approach each other by chance and do not touch. Yet abstraction develops its own means of fascinating, particularly through the translation of movement developed on four limbs as translated into two plus wheels. The pleasure of a canon is usually that of recognizing pattern, but here the viewer is challenged to view patterns that, in a postmodern conundrum, do not involve repetition.
"We had to decide: when is an arm an arm, and when is it a leg?" explains guest artistic director Marc Brew, who will dance in the piece.
Brew, who danced with the Australian Ballet and South Africa's Pact Ballet until a car accident left him partially paralyzed in 1997, returns to AXIS after the success of his 2011 commission for the company, Full of Words. In Divide, his new work for the company, he was also inspired by minimalism, particularly visual artist Carl Andre's "Spill," an apparently random scattering of small tiles on a carpeted floor (coincidentally, the piece also dates from 1966).
Danced by a trio (Sonsherée Giles, Joel Brown, and Sebastian Grubb), the piece experiments with the division of space along a jagged line that cleaves the stage into two parts, as well as the natural divisions that occur within an odd-numbered set: two men and one woman -- a pair and an outcast -- those who can and do use their legs as legs and the one who uses his legs as objects in an astounding display of painful vulnerability.
AXIS Dance presents Realign the Curve: Home Season 2014 at 8 p.m. April 11-13 at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts (1428 Alice, Oakland). Tickets are $10-25; axisdance.org