12 April 2013
Signdance Collective International performed their tale about Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca at the 2013 NoPassport theatre conference at NYU Gallatin on 1 March 2013 in New York City. Writer, dramatist and director, Caridad Svich, responds.
A jagged, angular, symbolic interpretation of Federico Garcia Lorca’s later-day poems written expressly as resistance poetry against fascism, The Other Side of the Coin as conceived of and presented by UK troupe Signdance Collective International is a hypnotic and surprising dance-theatre-sign language and live music experience.
The Other Side of the Coin as conceived of and presented by UK troupe Signdance Collective International is a hypnotic and surprising dance-theatre-sign language and live music experience.
Fronted by a two-person jazz-blues-rock band (guitar and drums), the performance begins with three female performers (company co-founder Isolte Avila and two others) taking the stage against a backdrop of projected, imagistic, abstract drawings inspired by Garcia Lorca’s own sketches and paintings.
The movement against the ferocious, adrenaline-charged music is framed around motifs that suggest marching, saluting and other aspects of military drills performed with a sly wink to commedia dell’arte forms, and shape-body improvisations. The three women establish their routine, and as an audience we come to understand a scenario (however abstracted) that these are figures that are caught in active resistance against a cruel, domineering authority.
The women are flanked soon by a mysterious, poetic, male figure in tattered clothing and unkempt, unruly hair (played by co-founder David Bower) who becomes the soloist against the chorus of women.
Recalling ancient Greek theatre with its solo and choral frames, the Poet embodies the spirit of freedom, Dionysian play, and martyrdom. Is the male figure Lorca? The performance does not assign roles in any conventional sense, but allows this soloist to represent the un-governable energy of art itself, railing and raging against tyrannical forces outside his control.
The chorus complements and counters the Poet physically, as they too become part of a dominated order, donning grey uniforms and mimicking each other’s actions – thus, rejecting, perforce, their individual will and agency. The Poet staggers across the stage, unable to counter the political body assembling around him. He sputters and cries. He hollers and dreams of fishes eating the moon and hearts set free.
The gestural imagery (in BSL) in this later section is anchored in repetitive gestures that seem to become smaller and smaller, sputtering and more sputtering against an inner flame. Beautiful to behold.
As the Poet dies, the order fragments amongst the chorus. The uniforms are taken off, the music shifts gears. A brief song – a bolero-inspired tune is sung by Avila, a call for all martyrs and poets in the world.
The Other Side of the Coin, in thirty minutes, manages to create a genuine, unique theatrical world that lingers long in the mind after the performance is over. The commitment of the company to the work, the distinctiveness of the vision of the piece, the talent of all of the company, and the clear compassion and humanity evident in this abstracted, emotional, Lorca-inspired dream is captivating.