“Dear audience, this —” a dancer said, extending a hand, “— is an invitation.”
And it was for sophomore Juan Irizarry, who joined a member of the AXIS Dance Company on the stage at the Space Place Theater at the University of Iowa on Friday, April 26.
“I was extremely nervous,” Irizarry said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, I’m going on stage, oh my God.’ It was funny because [the dancer] said, ‘We want people to feel comfortable. We want the audience member to know the experience of being on stage.’”
This piece, which was the third and final of the evening’s show, was audience-directed from the very beginning. Dancers spoke to the audience directly, came out into the theater and finally danced with the audience members they brought on stage.
Irizarry said that it was somewhat out of the ordinary for a professional company to interact with the audience in this way, but it may be that the company itself is somewhat out of the ordinary. AXIS practices what they call “physically integrated dance,” which integrates dancers with and without disabilities.
Associate Professor of Dance Jennifer Smith, who helped organize the excursion along with the Terpsichore Dance Collective, had been intrigued with the work of AXIS for years.
“I’m interested in them because of the whole somatic-based program that dance has really become, and recognizing the accessibility of the body in so many ways that we sometimes neglect to recognize, and how the body is an expressive tool in so many ways,” she said.
The evening’s performances, particularly the first one, explored this “accessibility of the body.” Titled “Full of Words,” it featured five dancers, two of whom were in wheelchairs. According to the program, the dance meditated on “what it is to be human.”
“The entire piece, for me, was about human conversations and just everyday moments and everyday action, but there was so much awareness and beauty in all of it,” junior Evelyn Langley said. “Right now, I feel like I want to live in the world of this dance and I didn’t want it to end.”
Freshman Hannah Steele shared this desire.
“They all just connected so well with each other. It made me want to go and connect with them too,” she said.
The second piece offered some comedy in the evening’s show. According to the program, the piece, titled “The Narrowing,” “explores the nature of performance itself from the performer’s perspective.”
The duet was performed by two men, one of whom was in a wheelchair.
“I liked it a lot, I really did,” junior Emily Diklich said. “I just really liked how there were moments where they were doing the same movement. We saw how movement in a chair vs. in a wheelchair can be the same. And how well they moved together is just absolutely amazing.”
Overall, the excursion seemed to be a success, as the Knox students who went stayed after the performance for a brief question-and-answer session with the dancers.
Smith said that she hopes to make more opportunities like this available.
“One of the things that I’m really interested in doing … is trying to get out there and see more live performance,” she said. “I just think it’s such an important aspect of studying any kind of performing art, and we don’t do it often enough. It just kind of seemed like a win-win for everybody.”