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Part two of David Bower's account of Signdance's work in India 2009 part two

On reading the Hindu Times, one article seeks to illustrate the different ways people have of describing India. In so many words, one school tries to categorise India as having "a beginning, a middle and a full stop".

It basically tries to pigeon-hole India: the writer goes on to say that it is ludicrous to attempt or even want to do this. In my layman's opinion, I couldn’t agree more.

To me India is infinite, and the matrices multi-prismatic; all of life is here, the trials, the tribulations, the future, the past, the urgency of the present moment, 'the sham', the love, 'the drudgery', the enlightened, 'the broken dreams', the path, the power struggles, the equality, the inequity.

Everything is out in the open, for better or for worse; only those who close the door miss out on this chance to engage in the energetic, challenging, adventurous dance that we know as India.

Aside from obvious things like decent dentistry, what, I ask is modernity any how? And what, for that matter is time? The way we could shape our lives is endless; we could if we choose, re-invent our planet in a thousand million different ways. I'm always disappointed when someone says, 'that's just the way it is, it's called reality my son'.

As the Manic Street Preachers might say, "this is my reality, what's yours?" Seems like a wise retort to such a blinkered view.

Hence the mechanism of art; it's one of the greatest tools we have. It enables us to propose possible blueprints of how we are in the world, or how we could be, or we could bring to life, as earnestly as possible, what we were. Art can also activate and transform our very being, it can point a way to our future evolution.

As a Deaf artist, I have a particular interest in the nature of sound. In fact I feel compelled to examine the difference between myself and a hearing person. It's quite obvious to me that the ears don't just function as tools with which to hear. For example they also serve as an aid to adjust our body to atmospheric pressure, and they serve to assist our balancing process, a very useful thing to have in dance.

I'm convinced that our ears serve us in ways that science has yet to define. In the workshop we discuss this notion hueristically. My colleauge, Isolte, suggested that ears help us to sense a greater depth of three dimensional spatiality. Personally I tend to agree on this point.

To be sure, our Deafness has enabled us to develop a culture and a way of communicating that has heralded the evolution of a distinct language group. This development has somewhat been stymied by the 'well meaning' but nevertheless clumsy efforts of the scientific community.

For example, 'Lets teach the Deaf to be like the Hearing'. The result of this has been to create highly contentious factions within the Deaf community. With so called 'Big D' members of the Deaf dismissing 'Little d' members. Embarrassing innuendos mar any decent attempt at serious discussion. Big D connotates people who are 'properly deaf' and the latter connotates those who have had an oralist influence in thier formative years, and therefore illogically not 'true deaf'.

The similarities across the field are undeniable, the word mulatto springs to mind, a form of inverted rascism. These are real lives, with hopes, dreams and a heart. A divided world, squabbling sailors on an unchartered ocean.

I recall a time, where I was described, by a fellow deaf person, as not 'true deaf', to several people on the Isle of Wight. This led to an unfortunate situation where an entire community was led to believe that I was a hearing person pretending to be deaf. I mean can you imagine! The irony here, is that the deaf person who said this was in actual fact able to use a telephone, I can’t.

Moot point aside, lest I digress. The hueristic discussion we were having in the studio, concerning our little theory about the multi-functionality of the ear, led us to consider our working practise, and the usefulness that certain techniques in dance have towards increasing three dimensional spatiality. By this, we mean not just seeing or hearing our surrounding environs in the literal sense, but sensing and intuiting via 'the expectant space' within the organs of the ears.

It's a different kind of hearing, one that requires no actual hearing. For example a conch shell has acoustic properties that go beyond normal everyday sound. Via its spiral, it conducts a composite sound or a sound of all sounds. Beethoven descibes it as 'The music of the spheres'.

The 'OM' in Hinduism too also acts as a conducter that reactivates our perception of 'deep sound'. Good practise in dance also generates this latency into action. As with the original Australasians singing into existence the world around them on the 'songlines'.

This kind of 'hearing' is not hearing in the everyday sense of the word, but a perception of a deeper reality. A kind of reality, full of meaning, that enables the deaf dancer to make visible these deep stories that lie within and around us. As Tony Heaton sculptor, former director at Holton Lee and current director at Shape London, once related to me a zen story about a sculptor who lived in ancient Japan: "when I look at the stone, I don’t see just the rock but I also see the form within that needs to be freed."

More on this one coming up, keep the peace Bro!....

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 28 February 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 20 January 2010

David Bower gives an evocative account of Signdance's trip to India in India 2009

The tired hot sun rose wearily over the horizon, as we meandered our way from the airport down recently well heeled motorways into Bangalore. Pass the night time fires. Mingling into the dawn rush hour traffic of wagons, carts, tripod taxis and cars, all ducking and weaving like Shiva's dance of life.

Shushing into ever the increasing quietude, pass carnivalesque' Krishna temples, Bangalore receded into the east as we rose up into the Deccan hills through ancient villages, exuding an ineffable air of long forgotten loving peace. Bangalore has recently started to experience something of seed change into something rich and strange, a two headed hydra, a new breed of gritty urban money warriors surveying its quarry with pseudo Zen calm.

A second state of siege, a post modern micro-chip colonization, manifesting like fungus in the form of picket fenced suburban Americana, a new Berlin wall, dividing the city, into a Mac-Donaldised Disney theme park, while the rest look on with dumbstruck awe.

Was the fall-out from the collapse of Rome like this, a diaspora of failed and frustrated Californian silicon emperors, here in the land of hallowed Yogi footprints, yes, Starbucks has finally arrived. The winds of neo-capitalist fundamentalism is fanning the flames of resentment, the two locking horns in an ignorant battle that horrifies the rest of us and inexorably drives the peace loving people into a new age of the dark.

Infinite souls artists retreat is just after one those peaceful villages, further down the lane and off the beaten track, nestled below the largest boulder in Asia. Its a ginormous monolithic rock that looks a bit like a scone. It was probably spat out by one of those huge Deccan pyroclastic volcanoes that occurred over sixty million years ago, during the Paleocene epoch, not so long after the dinosaurs, or marooned by the unimaginably slow retreating tide of erosion.

The volcanoes, however are considered to have been the largest and most furious ever in the history of the planet. They were active during India's time as an island before it was destined to crash into Asia and in turn create the Himalayas. This dramatic geological past is evidenced where ever I look, its in the red earth and the sun baked boulders teetering on tiptoes, balanced on the ridges of the hills around.

The retreat has been established by a Bangalore based combined arts theatre company called the Little Jasmine Company, it aims to be as self-sufficient as possible, harvesting water from the monsoons, power from the sun, it even has a Banana grove. Looking for all the world like an Essene garden cultivated by the desert fathers, a splash of green in the red brown hills.

The one draw back is that occasionally, all the villagers have to pool together to fend off the elephants who attempt to make a banquet of it all. From the outdoor studio where I'm rehearsing I can see the semi-arid valley retracting off into a hazy rocky landscape, I keep mistaking the boulders for a herd of elephants gently swaying into view.

We are rehearsing 'Dances for a Lost Traveller'. It comprises of four different pieces, the first is called 'Here', a sign dance piece about a relationship in flux, the second is called 'Listen', a journey into the landscape of Tinnitus, the third piece is called 'The Words', exploring the strange paradoxical tendency that language has in divorcing us from reality and impairing the longevity of stories, and the fourth is a madcap screw ball sign dance theatre piece about artists travelling in an increasingly compromising world of over-wrought sensitivity.

Isolte Avrila the choreographer has invited Little Jasmine to look at furthering the dramaturgical structure of 'Listen', and to help us explore ways to present the musical elements and the dance theatre elements into a seamless dynamic. Each moment in a production is a frame, and each frame has a dynamic perspective fused with layers of meaning. The slightest deviation from this picture alters the meaning of the story.

To dramaturg a piece (as Kirtana Kumar and Konarak Reddy are helping to do for us), is to create a map, a point of reference that enables the audience to know precisely where to focus, if that focus is pulled, the story is fragmented. Its not so much what you say on stage, its also what you don't say, whether its verbal, physical, choreographic, filmic or musical.

The various disciplines and techniques that we utilise to present a piece, has to cohere together in such a manner that every component is targeted towards the 'eye' of the story. Its interesting to consider the parallels with meditation.

In Hinduism people often talk of the 'Monkey Mind'. This means, as a simile, that the mind is often given to wandering, thoughts loop round repetitively, or turn to past issues that still vex us. But if the monkey in the mind stills, and focus attends to breathing, the mind clears and in theory we begin to focus on the 'eye' of what's happening.

Kirtana and Konarak are both the artistic directors of Little Jasmine and founders of the retreat. We are also here to further develop our collective structure and to increase an awareness of each others art forms.

The studio itself is piece of art, it is an outdoor room with a palm thatched roof, the floor is made with a mixture of mud and concrete and bears a striking resemblance to the finest quality slate, the space is surrounded by a cuduppah stone lintel (also bearing a resemblance to slate), that serves as a bench.

The whole effect to my imagination reminds me of a very well turned out welsh mountain hut where some of my family worked in Llanberis back in the day. The process is very constructive, challenging and it promises to yield some significant breakthroughs in the evolution of all Sign Dance Collective's repertoire and otherwise.

Soon we will be taking off from the retreat to do a mini-tour of 'Dances for a Lost Traveller' throughout the region of Karnataka and then finishing at its capital, Bangalore, to perform at the 'Ranga Shankara Theatre'.

At the end of the day, the sun drifted down the wilderness, the boulder beneath me, pulsated with the heat of the sun, and it felt as if though, in fact I'm pretty sure, it was breathing and levitating, Richard Dawkins should have been there, he probably would have said I was deluded, but I don't care, its better than a river of discarded computers.

All this would not have been possible without the support of Arts Council England South East, Disability Arts on-line, Vicky Heathcock and the band, Little Jasmine, Gerdinand Wagenaar, and Isolte Avilla's tireless efforts. Please look in again for some more on this one, meantime big love, David.


Posted by Colin Hambrook, 10 February 2009

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 20 January 2010