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Michael Reid and John Paul Lawson, where have you been all my life? Reid and Lawson are both big, powerful athlete-dancers, guys where you take one look and worry they’ll be muscle-bound. Happily, though, both are ballet-trained, and they combine all that power with clean, graceful lines, making their pirouettes and wheeling leaps the highlight of Axxiom Dance Collective’s show at the Vine on Sunday evening. In particular, they were stunning in “Windows Within,” a duet by artistic director Joei Waldron in which the men seem to struggle against but then accept their mutual attraction. If Diversionary Theatre is repeating Hot Guys Dancing next season, this dance would be perfect.

Waldron started Axxiom in 2002 as a hip hop company, then branched into contemporary, and some of the strongest works – of  11, by 8 different choreographers – on the Vine program were jazzy pop numbers that showed the company’s hip hop roots. Jennika Grace created two group pieces in which 12 or more dancers did quick pivots and jazzy, angular moves, really selling the dance … and keeping from mowing one another down on the small stage. Another big-group number, Reid’s “Stimela,” was also infectious fun. Hip hop artist Seiha Vor blended delicate arm gestures into “It Happens” and salsa into the duet “Latin Spices,” in an intriguing conversation between hip hop and other styles.

When it comes to contemporary dance, Waldron’s style, seen in two dances, is heavy on the anguished expressions and writhing gestures that have become a modern-dance cliche. Although there was too much of that tortured aesthetic in other contemporary work on the program, I liked the play with kickboxing moves in Julia Katcher’s “Yin and Yang,” and both she  and the duo of Naomi O’Connor and Julie Smith had great musical instincts: Katcher used music by cellist Zoe Keating, and O’Connor and Smith turned to French composer Yann Tiersen.

Janice Steinberg

Janice Steinberg

Award-winning dance journalist Janice Steinberg has published more than 400 articles in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Dance Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She was a 2004 New York Times-National Endowment for the Arts fellow at the Institute for Dance Criticism and has taught dance criticism at San Diego State University. She is also a novelist, author of The Tin Horse (Random House, 2013). For why she's passionate about dance, see this article on her web site, The Tin Horse

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