The Language of Sign Dance Theatre

Feature in Issue 7-2 | Summer 1995

Vocabulary of Performance.

Sign Dance Theatre was created with the formation of Common Ground Sign Dance Theatre in 1986. A dream child born of a utopian vision of integration between Deaf and Hearing cultures, it was stepping into an uncharted area of growth and understanding through art.

Sign Dance Theatre is a fusion of elements which together create a new artform. Sign Theatre forms the basis. Using signing, the language of the Deaf, to invent the narrative it gives us a story and develops a visual poetry. From this narrative, signing and gestures are used to create choreography. Exploded into movement, images express the feeling and quality of the characters and situations, thoughts and feelings, the visible and the invisible.

Beyond Sign Theatre and narrative we are left with an abstraction which is Sign Dance. The language of the Deaf is spatial, its dynamic qualities are used as the core of the choreography. Since this language takes place in the air, vivid and meaningful expression is conveyed visually. If a dance to do with love was being performed, the signs for love and the feelings involved would be used in the movement, these elements merging with gesture and contemporary modern dance. The style of work can range from abstraction through expressionism to a highly theatrical use of Sign Theatre and dance.

Sign Dance Theatre has a wide vocabulary which is fused with dance steps. The choreography becomes an extension of physical movement because of the language elements involved. This brings clarity to emotions expressed in pieces of work and builds a stage for the beauty of sign language to be seen and â€˜heard’.

This visual expression, a fusion of sign language, dance and theatre, is not only a tool used for art but is an important step towards bringing the Deaf and Hearing to a common understanding of the human experience. This new language of expression builds a bridge of mutual communication. No longer must the Deaf simply mimic the artistic forms of the Hearing, or the Hearing fall under strict guidelines of sign language. Instead, an artform of true integration can be created. A forum where ideas and languages are shared, inevitably bringing us closer together.

This article in the magazine

Issue 7-2
p. 7