DEAF MEN DANCING at Laban
Updated: Oct 17, 2019
A stunning show at Laban theatre by Deaf Men Dancing contained any number of great moments – but the best for me was a simple costume-change.
It came during The Progress Score, the third part of a remarkable triple bill called Time about living with hearing loss, which featured three dancers working in unison in gorgeous deep colours while a fourth, in wishy-washy green, performed to one side in a heartbreaking display of exclusion.
To a pulsating soundtrack, the lone dancer tried to move in closer. Then, almost unnoticed, he slipped into the wings and emerged seconds later wearing a costume of rich teal to take his place among the other three. It was a move of miraculous simplicity, perfectly capturing the transition from alienation to inclusivity.
In fact, all three of choreographer Mark Smith’s wonderful pieces – performed by deaf dancers Joseph Fletcher, Aaron Rahn, Joe Porton and Joshua Kyle-Cantrill – offered similar messages of hope after anguished investigations of desolation and isolation.
Hear! Hear! – performed to a backdrop of old adverts for bulky hearing aids – revealed not only the silent world of profound deafness but also the relentless misery of chronic conditions such as tinnitus. I particularly liked the way Smith alternated Pete Waller’s electronica compositions with verses by Joyce Mear and Donna Williams to help create an atmosphere of unsettling contrasts.
Ten, a collection of Thou Shalt Not commandments about deaf awareness, mixed dance with mime, theatre and music hall. At its heart was a crosstalk double act, Mutt and Jeff, who – of course – never said a word. It was a nice subversive touch, although they really didn’t need to act out all ten proscriptions.
And finally back to The Progress Score, a creation inspired by shocking statistics that showed how a generation of deaf kids is being ignored because of education funding cuts. In Smith’s dynamic staging, their sense of alienation was brilliantly counterpointed by Chris Bartholomew’s soundtrack which was as vibrant as the colours of the dancers’ costumes.
This was a magnificent evening of dance - presented as part of the annual cultural festival Greenwich Performs – which pulled off the difficult yet vital trick of using breathtakingly delicate artistry to make heavyweight political judgments. And it absolutely proved Leonardo da Vinci’s dictum that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Photograph © Jane Hobson