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Beautiful chances

A man in an olive suite and wide-brimmed hat kneels on the ground. His arms appear to be swinging out in front of him.

David Bower performing in But Beautiful. Photographer: Rob Walker

Improvisation jazz and SDC go together like silk and pearls. With a history of lively melodies that shoot off on surprising tangents, jazz has a fluidity that the most experimental pop DJ can only dream of. This complements SDC's creative ethos perfectly, transforming their unique synthesis of film, mime, dance, sign language, gesture and body language into a stunningly mellifluous language that defies articulation.

Which made the discovery all the more frustrating that, regardless of But Beautiful's inclusive feel, I found myself unable to get into the essence of jazz. It would take far more than one dazzling SDC show to teach deaf people the genre's motivations, let alone underline the band's role as the sometime conductor of their improvisations. Indeed, upon remarking on the show's potential afterwards, one well-meaning deaf audience member betrayed his unawareness of the musical trickery that had just taken place.

Hugely popular though their inclusive methodology may be across Europe, marketing-wise I feel SDC should aim for an audience with a taste for the avant-garde, rather than a generic deaf audience. Where music is concerned, access issues run deeper among the Deaf Community than just comprehending a song's lyrics.

I have met competent sign-singers who are unfamiliar with John Lennon and his most renowned song, Imagine. Deaf culture cannot fully absorb popular musical culture in the first instance; essentially, the latter excludes the former by default. How, then, to market something as flighty as jazz? I would urge SDC to focus on building their trail-blazing reputation. Multi-disciplinary performance is the throbbing heart of their being; to rob them of it is like robbing a born-deaf person of his signing hands. Beautiful are the chances they have taken for us all.

Sign Dance Collective takes their Beautiful tour to Milton Keynes in March 2007. For more details see

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