Hot Wheels

Classical Ballet in a New Position

Rehearsing Peter Pucci's In Time Like Air, dancer Kitty Lunn lounges languorously across a chair, leans her stomach on its seat, her head on its back. Lying on the floor, she caresses its rubber tires, peers through its sparkling spokes as she twirls them. "She's in love with it," explains Pucci, who created the duet for disabled dancer and wheelchair. "It's her partner. She supports it, and it supports her."

When Infinity Dance Theater premieres the work at the Kaye Playhouse Friday and Saturday, it will be staged with snow falling. "She'll be barefoot in the snow with a wheelchair," Pucci says. "It goes against what people expect."

The "mixed ability" troupe has upset expectations since Lunn, a former principal dancer with the Washington Ballet—and a magnetic redhead—founded it in 1994, seven years after an accident stripped her of the use of her legs. Infinity has grown from five to 10 dancers, three of them in wheelchairs (both motorized and manual ones, the latter adapted by Lunn's husband, Andrew Macmillan, from lightweight sports chairs and designed for both performance and aesthetics).

Five works will premiere at the Kaye, including Pucci's Hoopla, a romp with hula hoops, and Tango Clandestino, company member Gabriela Poler's tale of debauchery in a tango palace. Marc Brew, a paraplegic Australian dancer, contributes Fly, a celebratory solo, and Access, which explores the nature of disability—the "standing" dancers variously perform blindfolded or with an arm or leg tied.

The newest company member is weight lifter Normez Shulz, a lifetime wheelchair user who contracted polio in infancy. He'll use his remarkable upper-body strength to lift the seven able-bodied dancers, who range in age from 22 to 57. "Each dancer is a principal," says Lunn. "Each stands out in [his or her] own way, which gives the company texture and richness." There's "parity" between the standing and wheelchair dancers. New member Jeffrey Freeze demonstrates on the barre behind Lunn: As the elfin 32-year-old circles his leg in a classical ballet rond de jambe, Lunn transposes the leg movements to her arms and torso, circling the air from her shoulder. "It looks like we're alldoing the same thing."

Some people may dismiss Infinity's work as "victim art" or call them "spunky cripples," she says, "until they see us and a lightbulb goes on: 'Oh, my God, this is really dancing!' " They hope the fans who flock to Peter Pucci's concerts will attend theirs. They've asked David Parsons and Lynn Taylor Corbett to create work for them.

Not all Infinity's pieces are for wheelchair dancers. "That's not what we're about," Lunn insists. Yet she enjoys upsetting stereotypes about the disabled. The Last Night of the World, a love duet between Lunn and a standing male dancer, is a "lusty, sexual dance," she says with a laugh. "At the end, you knowthese people are gonna go off to doit."

 
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