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Signdance Collective International
Friday, March 8th, 8 p.m.
Juggling Gypsy • 1612 Castle St.

OUT OF THE BOX: The Signdance Collective performs theater and comedy in avant-garde realms, which showcase the talents of deaf, hearing-disabled and abled performers. Courtesy photo

OUT OF THE BOX: The Signdance Collective performs theater and comedy in avant-garde realms, which showcase the talents of deaf, hearing-disabled and abled performers. Courtesy photo

In the UK, international dance the-atre company Signdance Collective (SC) has been called the “last great avant-garde” art movement—and it’s easy to see why. Led by deaf and physically disabled artists, SC merges experimentation, performance and education into a new, pioneering art form, which they have dubbed “signdance theatre.”

Artistic director David Bower—also known for his role in Four Weddings and a Funeral—guides the company, comprised of two musicians and four actors/dancers from southeast England. The collective is set to launch their spring U.S. East Coast tour, where they are stopping by the Juggling Gypsy on March 8th to perform their new work, “Half a Penny” and “The Other Side of the Coin.”
encore spoke with Bower about his ties with Wilmington, the collective’s formation, and their upcoming performance.

encore (e): Is this your first visit to Wilmington?
David Bower (DB): Personally, I have been coming out to North Carolina for over 10 years to visit family and friends. This will be our second visit to the Juggling Gypsy; the first time [was] in the early 2000s. We met the owner, Sebastian, at a street theatre festival in Slovenia in Eastern Europe. He and a friend were performing at the festival; they did a fire-eating act, and we just hooked up and became really good friends. We are looking forward to coming back to Wilmington not only to perform but it will also be a reunion.

e: How and when did the Signdance Collective form?
DB: The Signdance Collective is “chapter two” in a 28-year history of development. We started it in 2001, out of a need to reinvent ourselves and consolidate our artistic intent. We lived in the wilderness out in Scotland, and the company was founded in a Tibetan Yurt. We then moved to Amsterdam, and that’s when we really started to travel internationally. As Amsterdam is a huge melting pot of people from all over the world, we met a lot of artists who made things happen for us; from there the west and east opened up. We have worked in over 250 cities, and counting in a span of 12 years.

e: What can audiences can expect from Signdance Collective performance?
DB: Signdance Collective is starting to come of age now. Twenty-eight years ago, there were a lot of new companies springing up who were looking at how deaf, hearing, disabled [and] abled people could work together in a logical and cohesive way to create art. Our remit or intent is to investigate how to create work by fusing sign language, dance and theatre together. We wanted to pro-actively discover the creative possibilities we could mine from our experiences. You have to remember: Back then it was a pretty new thing; there was a great leveling as more opportunities opened for people like ourselves who were traditionally marginalized and excluded. We have created nearly 30 full-length shows and each of them unique, ranging from Shakespeare, to sci-fi, Goya to jazz, comedy … well, just about everything really.

e: When did you become involved with the Signdance Collective?
DB: Well you know how it is: I wanted to make something out of my life and felt I could do it. I went to study Theatre of the Deaf at Reading University in the UK, and whilst there met a lot of professionals who came to watch the work and talent scout. Isolte Avila, who I work with now in the Signdance Collective, came over and I was invited to join the company. I was in a controversial choice, apparently, as I was a pain the ass, but then I beg to differ—that’s another story! While I worked at the Signdance Collective, I also took on freelance work in film, radio and TV. And that continues to be the case today.

e: What was the inspiration for “Half a Penny” and “The Other Side of the Coin?”
DB: “Half a Penny” is a comedy and northern European in feeling. Two rogue sign-language interpreters and an important speaker reluctantly battle it out in a comedy of errors. We will be accompanied by one of the hottest rock ‘n’ roll bands in London, Dead Days Beyond Help.

“The Other Side of the Coin” is southern European in feeling, and we are looking at the unpublished poetry of Frederico Garcia Lorca’s last poems.

The whole show examines how much freedom an artist has; it’s about the courage and bravery of the artist to speak about the things that need to be articulated. It’s also about the times we live in and how we can make the world a better place for all of us.

e: In the UK, Signdance Collective has been called the “last great avant-garde” art movement. Would you consider your work “avant-garde”?
DB: I can see why we might have this label attached to our work. The expression was coined a number of years ago in London; I quite like it as it sounds catchy. “The last great avant-garde” just rolls off the tongue. I think it comes of our disability and its status as taboo; a lot of artists are turning the taboo on its head and I suppose we have been guilty of participating in this sport to some extent, which can’t be a bad thing! I like to think of the avant-garde as a place where people haven’t been before, the cutting-edge; a place where angels fear to tread. So it sounds quite heroic. As to whether it’s true, we will have to leave that to the benefit of hindsight that history affords.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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