A dead silence and tangible hostility greeted Kapila Palihawadana and his troupe of dancers at their first meeting with the group of children that would soon take the stage as part of naTANDA’s next venture.
Unfazed by the awkwardness and tension, the naTANDA dance troupe persevered in its cause- of conducting workshops for children with hearing impairments. “They had so much pent up sorrow, anger and aggression,” recalls Kapila, “and so many stories to share but no way of communicating them to us.”
For Kapila and for naTANDA the best mode of release is dance- to break all constraints in communication by channeling every last emotion into movement.
And this is exactly what will happen in Sign Speak- to be held on March 12, 13, 14 and 15 at the British School Auditorium. Inspired by the sign language alphabet and its expressions, over a hundred children and the twelve dancers of naTANDA prove that expressive communication does not have to be verbal; and that a hearing impairment need not be a constraint.
For over eight months, the naTANDA team worked with these children- in the process of learning a whole new language and way of life. “We encountered many challenges where attitudes and perceptions were concerned,” reflects Kapila.
“There was often a reluctance o try something new because of the negative impressions constantly drilled into them from a very young age.”
Accordingly, Kapila and his dancers took baby steps towards gaining an understanding and insight into the minds of the children. “It was not an easy process,” he explains. “We had to begin with yoga exercises to release the tension and find out ways of getting through to them and encouraging them to open up to us. The result was as much as they benefitted from the experience, they taught us something new each day; and for each of us it was extremely inspiring to see the level of commitment, effort and passion put in; and the dramatic transformation noticeable in every child. There was a new sense of confidence and ease around others which we know will help them in the future.”
Despite the obvious challenges of coordination, the perseverance and focus of the children had made teaching and guidance unexpectedly easy once the initial stiffness had passed. “It is definitely a risky undertaking,” admits Kapila, “and the performance cannot be 100% perfect but I feel that it takes many steps in the right direction. What is important is that each dancer has his/ her own voice and something to share; and they share their thoughts, challenges, hopes and triumphs with the audience. So we hope the audience in turn learns as much from the experience as we did.”
True to form, the inspiration for this venture came from what has now become a mundane, everyday occurrence: an impatient, insistent traffic policeman signaling a road closure. “I was fascinated by how much was said in that one gesture,” explains Kapila, “and it really got me thinking about the people who must depend on signs and the potential of this new language, in reaching an audience that is only vaguely aware of it.”
While hoping that this one flash of inspiration will have sparked off a positive change in the lives of those who battle hearing impairments, Kapila thanks Sign Speak’s Principal Sponsor HSBC, Mr. Bjoern Ketels, the Director of the Goethe Institut, Alliance Francaise, participating schools the School for the Deaf and Blind in Ratmalana, Hillwood College Kandy and St. Joseph’s College, Nugegoda.
Tickets for the show priced at Rs. 2500, 1500, 1000 and 500 are available at the Goethe Institut, The Alliance Francaise de Kotte and at the British School Auditorium.