Thursday, 2 October 2014

Hear! Hear!

Mark Smith
Hear! Hear!/ Rosa, DMD+, Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre @ Sadler's Wells - reviewed on 28th September

Deaf Men Dancing had to change name for its bill at the Lilian Baylis Studio. With its first female dancer (Natasha Volley), the company was retitled DMD+, though its choreography remained in artistic director Mark Smith's inimitable style.

The afternoon's first work, Hear! Hear!, explored the choreographer's personal experience of deafness. "People ask how I can hear the music and I wanted to show this" explained Smith in the post-show talk. "I wanted the hearing audience to experience what sound is like for me."

In Hear! Hear!'s opening number, dancers wore old-fashioned hearing aid boxes strapped to their chests. Later, a voiceover read out two very different poems, both written in response to an image of a child having his hearing tested. One writer highlighted the child's rescue from a "soundless vice", whilst the other focused on his bewilderment and desire for familiarity. Whilst the work didn't give me the depth of understanding Smith intended, it did prompt me to question and re-evaluate my understanding of deafness.

The afternoon's second work, Rosa, was inspired by Shakespeare's As You Like It. It featured four dancers, representing lust, confusion, anger and love, all vying for the title character's attentions. Interestingly, Michael England's accompanying score was composed in response to Smith's hearing test graphic chart.

The afternoon's choreography combined sign language with ballet and contemporary dance. Performed by DMD+ company members, who come from very different training backgrounds including commercial and hip hop, individual personalities shone but technical weaknesses were exposed.

I was underwhelmed by some of the afternoon's dance content, but DMD+'s programme and especially its post-show talk - with dancers explaining how they hear different frequencies of music - provided interesting food for thought about dance and deafness.

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