Signdance lead the way in experimental performance with their most challenging piece of work to date
The Signdance Collective premiered the launch of their new production Three Films + One at Holton Lee on 28 June 2008.
The four pieces represent an intense departure for Signdance away from the biographical framework of ‘But Beautiful’ and into something more personal and from the heart. Drawing on collaborations with Sardinian performing arts director Ornella D'Agostino from Carovana plus a range of musicians, film and sound artists, including Caglar Kimyoncu from Filmpro.net, Signdance have produced their most engaging piece of work to date. signdance in rehearsal
It was fitting that the Signdance Collective premier the work at Holton Lee, which has aspirations of being a dedicated space for disabled artists wishing to experiment in creating Disability Arts work that takes the art form on to a professional level, as well as challenging boundaries of access and attitude.
The Four pieces – ‘Listen’, ‘Here’, ‘Words’ and ‘Travelling’ are passionate expressions of the Signdance oeuvre, using diverse styles and techniques to give an insight into the deeply philosophical approach the Collective take to making work. This is performance territory akin to other styles of dance-theatre firmly rooted in Europe, but with little precedent here in the UK. There were similarities to work by Alain Patel’s ‘Les Ballets C de la B’ and the ‘Seven Fingers’, in that elements of the performers’ lives and personalities become intimately and dynamically woven in layers, into the construction of the work. What makes Signdance so totally unique, is that their lives are informed by disability and deafness – and so their approach is based on a process of how to incorporate those aspects into their work.
Landscape and language are the two main themes running through ‘Three Films plus One’. ‘Listen’ is based on David Bower’s experience of Tinnitus, using the disability as a creative tool to inform the performance work. It is the most hard-hitting of the four pieces – giving the audience an intense visual and auditory experience. The stage is cast with a backdrop of high pitched tones, which are translated through sound software to create a landscape suggestive of high tower blocks and flowers. Doves fly through this setting, immersing the audience. Against this cloth of sound and image David moves rapidly and intently. It is as if he is enclosed, trying desperately to escape. He runs, paces sings and dances through a box-like structure conveying ideas about the connection between language and the inner landscape of tinnitus.
By way of contrast the second piece ‘Here’ is very lyrical – the movement consisting of a carefully dramatised piece of dance made up of signed dialogue. The performance takes place on the floor, with a live projection of David Bower and Isolte Avrila onto the wall, telling the story of a relationship in flux. The detail is in the signing, but beyond that Here describes an emotional landscape – one that is again contained within a box.
The third piece, ‘Words’, locates the movement in written and spoken language. Using a series of responses to architectural space collected by Jon Adams from students at the University of Portsmouth, first developed as part of a collaboration with Dada-South called Squaring the Circle. A random bucket of sentences is played and spilled like rain on the performers heads. They are pulled arbitrarily in front of a live camera and are signed furtively. The energy builds to a crescendo, describing the confusion, frustration and ultimately the beauty of language in its relationship to disability and deafness.
The most complete piece of the Four was Travelling – directed by Ornella D'Agostino of Carovana It took place under a large marquee at Holton Lee. The audience were welcomed into the space with endearments as they were offered flowers – only to be met by a strong line delineating the space, marked with the phrase ‘Do not pass this line!’ Travelling tells the story of how it is to live a life of constantly crossing boundaries – geographical and physical boundaries as well as existential boundaries relating to disability and deafness. Isolte offers the audience a chance to go to ‘the Happy Place’. She takes on the role of a travel agent offering holidays in the sun. But how does the movement of peoples’ around the world, as tourists, migrants, or as artists, affect indigenous communities? How does political conflict affect the traveller? What does it feel like to live the nomadic lifestyle of the artist?
The piece unravels with a series of journeys through film, dance and song. David Bower takes on a comic role inspired by his experience of officials at customs. He acts out the often bizarre demands made of the traveller, who is forced to dance through hoops on in order to get permission to cross a border. Isolte plays out the dichotomies she has faced, having lived with a dual identity of being Cuban and American. Ultimately the piece leaves its audience with a powerful image of travelling through the palm of the hand. At the core of Signdance’s work is the beauty of using sign language as a form of dance and of expression.
I hope Three Films plus One gets taken on by venues across the UK and look forward to its development for the High Wyrrd Festival Monday 15 September - Sunday 21 September, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.
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