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David Bower On … The Signdance Collective

David Bower is a deaf actor, best known for his role as David in hit 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral. In 2001 he co-founded The Signdance Collective, dedicated to performing original works utilising signdance, the unique visual language he created with Isolte Avila over 20 years ago. Their latest show, Dances for a Lost Traveller, is at the Warehouse Theatre, Croydon from 19 June to 12 July 2009.

The Signdance Collective seeks to merge several artistic disciplines together. Although we are an integrated company of disabled and non-disabled artists, we are not trying to create work to enlighten people about the issues surrounding disability, so in that sense we are not dealing with social realism. But rather we are seeking to explore the creative possibilities that a disability suggests.

 A hundred years ago a statement like the above would not have been possible; the fact that we are able to do this now says volumes about the new and fragile freedoms that artists have gained. A new art movement has grown in the United Kingdom, one that the SDC is proud to belong to. The disability arts movement has been coined as “The Last Avant-garde”.

The Signdance Collective is essentially the modern equivalent of a medieval troupe of travelling troubadours. During our travels, it’s amazing the amount of interest we generate. In places where there is no disability arts movement, people are surprised and in turn become active in establishing a disability arts movement of their own. We can actually see the movement spreading and growing throughout the world before our very eyes. Soon, sure enough, disabled people will become a part of the human story in historical terms, no longer an invisible footnote in the grand story of Kings and Tyrants.

We are at the Croydon Warehouse for a three week run of our new production. It’s called Dances for a Lost Traveller, and we are hoping to generate full houses, so if you are interested in shunning the recession blues and keeping Bohemia alive then this gig could be what you need.

Dances for a Lost Traveller comprises four different pieces dealing with the theme of communication breakdowns. All the pieces fuse sign language, dance, theatre, film and live music and it’s like nothing that you would see at a mainstream event. We have some of the top musicians in London, so this is definitely a show for music aficionados. The work is very visual too and completely accessible for deaf audiences.

The four pieces were created over the last two years. They are the result of collaborations with various artists from around Europe. The first piece, Here, is about a relationship on the rocks, directed by Primoz Bayzak, one of Slovenia’s top dance artists. It is quite Orwellian as the couple are under constant surveillance via a hidden CCTV camera. We see the couple’s struggle as a dance with sign-language fused into the choreography, and we grab snatches of an intense argument. With a score written by Mark Holub (band leader for Led Bib, who have been tipped for the Mercury Music Award), the music is incredibly powerful jazz rock that lends a foreboding energy to the overall piece.

The second piece is called The Words. It’s a bit like The Birds - only we are not under attack from the avarian world, but from language itself. From a deaf perspective “we are surrounded by words that make shapes in the air”, an intellectual fuzz that can cloud us from true feelings. This piece was very cleverly directed by Carla Onni, a dancer from the capital of Sardinia, Cagliari. It’s probably the most lyrical piece. Alex Ward from The Dead Ends provides an amazingly haunting score on electric guitar, as the dancers battle for the truth behind the words.

The third piece is called Listen. Back in ’86, I attended a benefit gig for the miners who were still reeling from the counter-revolutionary onslaught. The indie bands of the day - The Fall, The Smiths and New Order - were playing. The acoustics were zinging all over the hall and on departure, I was left with Tinnitus - which has been there ever since. Isolte Avila, our dance director who hails from Cuba and Luke Barlow, our music director, got together to create a piece that charts the inner journey I had to make in order to reconcile myself to “The Noise”. These days “The Noise” is no longer the enemy but a friend, it helps me artistically in that it colours and informs the decisions I make as an artist. This piece is probably the punkiest piece we have. It really is a psychological sign dance thriller and the music will have you rocking in your seats. It’s incredibly exciting to have been able to work with Isolte as she is probably one of the most underrated dance artists in the U.K, her choreographic wisdom is phenomenal.

The fourth piece, Travelling, is a madcap, anarchic, screwball comedy. It’s the result of collaboration with Sardinia’s iconic dance theatre company Caravana. It explores the life of the travelling troubadour in the plastic modern world of the police state with all of its paranoid surveillance strategies. Re-energize your free spirit and learn some sign-language and salsa, as we guide you on a vision quest for our humanity. Liran Donin created a fantastic score that seems to cover just about every musical genre going; it’s like the world of music in 40 minutes. Oh and he is probably the best bass guitarist in the world.  

We also have guest artist performing. Antoine Hunter, a deaf dance artist from California, is a force of nature who explores the creative power of a heart on fire and is truly a force to be reckoned with. Then there’s Claire Louise-West who explores the grace and integrity of cosmic feminine forces in a powerful dance solo, and we will have signed music from the band.  

The road to freedom is a couple of stops from Victoria Station, so come on let’s show two big fat fingers to the fascist regime, join us for a celebration of the human spirit and possibly a glass of wine downstairs in the bar.

Dances for a Lost Traveller is for everyone (especially lost travellers) no matter what your background, young and old alike, it crosses cultural divides. We are hoping for a multi-cultural audience. There are however certain access issues, there are no lifts; Croydon Warehouse is currently building a new theatre that will be completely accessible. If you feel you can negotiate a flight of stairs with some assistance please don’t hesitate to ask for help. If not then please accept my apologies and check our dates on-line for more accessible up and coming venues. We are at www.signdancecollective.co.uk

For more information and tickets, visit www.warehousetheatre.co.uk