2020-2021 Season

Contemporary Dance Theater: Dance Creation and ASL

by dramaturg, Susanna Bezooyen

BYU Contemporary Dance Theater (CDT) presents its 2021 production, Remnants of Motion,  Friday, March 26, and Saturday, March 27, 2021, with the added feature of making it accessible to our deaf and hard of hearing (DHoH) viewers. The show will include subtitles and signing interpretation by a team lead by Anne Post Fife, CDT’s head ASL consultant.

 

Inclusion versus Exclusion

Anne is not only deaf but is a theatre educator committed to bringing the joys of theatre, dance, and the arts to her students. She, herself, loves to watch productions and attend dance performances.  She enjoys listening to music by feeling the vibrations that music creates and by reading the lyrics. Her favorite singer is Adele, and she enjoys hip hop, and signing for folk music.1

In a recorded March 2021 interview, Anne shares how she believes these performance art forms are a great benefit to people. She hopes that this work can be made more accessible by incorporating ASL into the actual performances and/or by providing interpreters for productions.2

Anne’s right-hand man, her son, Nick Fife, is a dance education student at BYU who is thrilled that this production is one his parents will be able to enjoy. Nick, who is able to hear, shared in a meeting March 3, 2021 that growing up with a deaf mother and father was disheartening at times because often his artistic endeavors were missed by his parents due to a lack of accessibility.3

Keely Song, artistic director of CDT and the entire company, wanted to respond positively to the call for change. Not only have the Fifes been utilized during the planning of the production, but other members of the deaf and hard of hearing community have been invited to participate as well.

Quinlan “Cue” Arnold, one of the choreographers, in Remnants of Motion,  was particularly aware of including ASL in his creation process. He wove ASL content into his piece by having each of his dancers select a word that is shown to the audience and then danced.

In a pre-recorded interview Arnold further illustrated the ability of deaf people to enjoy music and dance by bringing our attention to artists like Antoine Hunter and Shaheem Sanchez who are well-known deaf dancers.4

Hunter, for instance, is the founder of Urban Jazz Company “California’s only Black-Deaf-led professional dance company.”5  He is also an active advocate for numerous other underrepresented communities and is successfully training up a new generation of empowered dancers.

Sanchez also invests his time in teaching others, beginning with his siblings, and is on a mission to show that the deaf are capable of being and doing so much more than many have believed.6

Arnold spoke with admiration for the deaf community who has so much more experience in this realm of embodied communication. Of them, he said,  “I’m confident that their knowledge will help draw our dance community, and our greater society, closer to a communication system that liberates all of our humanity.”7 He continues, “…to achieve true dialogue, we have to focus on … bridge[ing] the communication gap between artists and audience by synchronizing body language with verbal language.”8

 

Creating A Bridge

To create the bridge Arnold speaks of, begins with understanding that deaf people are very kinaesthetically aware. As mentioned by Anne, music is something the deaf enjoy through the vibrations they feel and see. Antoine Hunter, for instance, will feel the instruments playing,9 or, like Shaheen  Sanchez, memorize the vibrations felt from an electronic device.10

If a song has lyrics, those are also memorized and the meaning of the words plus the feeling of those vibrations start to work together as their bodies respond through movement.

Nick shared his memories of his mother enjoying music by pressing her leg against the speaker of their home sound system and feeling the vibrations.11 Many deaf people, like many who can hear, feel a desire to move to that beat.

Bridge-building also comes, as Hunter explains in his video, “How to communicate with a Deaf Person,” through “patient communication.”12 Patience was a virtue of the CDT team. Rehearsals were creative endeavors that often included zoom calls that bridged geographical distances, while interpreters simultaneously bridged language distances. It was a coordinated group effort where time was allowed for the process to unfold. The final result was a building of positive relationships between all, regardless of the challenges.

 

ASL In Performance

How do you effectively use ASL in dance performance?

Anne pointed out that for a deaf person a dance performance can be like a speech. It can be dry or enjoyable depending upon the intonation or expression of the ASL interpreter.13

Nick explained that giving ASL interpreters sufficient space to sign is important. They create gestures and movements that are often broad, and animated.14

Facial expression is also vital for conveying nuance of meaning, thus, interpreters need a space wherein masks need not be worn.15

Anne further explains that interpretation is not always just a word-for-word endeavor. It is a melding of two different languages. Dance, in particular, can be challenging in that there are numerous ways a piece can be understood. She says that “interpreting music is like writing a poem.”16 Her process is to read the text, imagine a picture that captures the essence she wants to convey, and then sign it. Some songs are clear, others require greater ingenuity.17

 

Committed to the Cause

When speaking of CDT, Arnold stated, “This community you’re witnessing now is one that understands the importance of that intersection [of true dialogue].”18

He seems to recognize a “village” that is willing to grow and welcome all those who wish to be a part of the wonderful world of dance they are trying to create; to invite all those who desire to enter into the dialogue that is the motion of the human body as it conveys the inner workings of heart and mind.

 

To Anne and Nick’s delight, Song expressed her intention to make ASL inclusion the standard in CDT’s shows. Nick expressed hope that it will lead to this becoming standard in all BYU productions.

Song states, “The true magic of dance comes in building communities and literally inviting people into the space to participate. The final production is merely the remnants of a process forged through work, communication, and a desire to connect. Having Anne, Nick, Emilee, and Cue work with the CDT dancers has been an invaluable experience on what it means to create a community of belongingness.”19

Enjoy the Show

 

Remnants of Motion

Friday March 26, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM

Saturday March 27, 11:00 AM -12:30 PM.

 

Livestreaming at:

https://dance.byu.edu/byu-dance-live-streaming

 

Online Program at:

byucdt.kotobee.com

Enjoy choreographer and dancer bios, video interviews, rehearsal clips, etc.

 

References

4,7,8,16,18Arnold, Quinlan “Cue.” February 2021. Video Interview.

3,11,13,14,15Fife, Anne Post, Fife, Nick, Song, Keely. 3 March 2021. In-person meeting.

1,2,16,17Fife, Anne. March 2021. Video interview.

12Hunter, Antoine. 28 April 2010. “Antoine Hunter Explain How to Communicate with Deaf People.” Found. 19 March 2021.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5V9xr2xMZA.

9Hunter, Antoine. 2014. “Antoine Hunter, dancer and ambassador of Deaf culture.” Vimeo. Found. 18 March 2021. https://vimeo.com/82733748.

6,10Sanchez, Shaheem. 27 November 2018. “How do deaf people experience music?” U-Tube. Found. March 9, 2021.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwqSuvFzDdI.

19Song, Keely. 19 March 2021. Interview.

5Urban Jazz Dance Company. Home. Found. 19 March 2021.  https://www.realurbanjazzdance.com/

 

 

 

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