Expressive signs

By Tahnee Hopman

While pedestrians and drivers alike tooted their horns and in general vented their frustration at yet another 15 minute road closure in anticipation of a VIP’s passing by, Kapila Palihawadana pondered the significance of a simple sign.

“There was a policeman,” he recalls, “who kept raising his hand, indicating that we were to stop. The sight of that white glove and his insistent gesture made me realize that there is a wealth of communication in that similar movement.”

A dab hand at observing and then transforming the mundane into dramatic choreography, Kapila – the founder of the naTANDA Dance Troupe, spent the following eight months learning a new language and observing the signs around him.

The result is Sign Speak- to be held on March 12, 13, 14, and 15 at the British School Auditorium, where 100 children and 12 dancers of naTANDA will bring the sign language alphabet to life through contemporary dance.

“It has been an enlightening process,” reflects Kapila as he recounts the experience to The Sunday Times. “As always we took a great deal of time to learn sign language as well as to get to know the people who use it the most. What struck us was the extent of the emotional struggle they face.

There was a great deal of sorrow, anger and aggression to contend with but at the end of it all we had a whole new level of understanding and empathy for them, as well as respect for their perseverance and focus.”

A daring venture to break the perceptions of the capabilities of the impaired Sign Speak is all about proving just how expressive a sign can be, and that contrary to the attitude that an activity like dance is not possible for these children, expression through dance is possible for anyone.

“Work on the show changed my outlook, even where naTANDA is concerned,” explains Kapila. “Despite a few obvious challenges which would arise I know now that anyone- as long as they are able to express themselves through their bodies- would be able to make a significant contribution to naTANDA.
Established in 2002, naTANDA is well known as Sri Lanka’s first contemporary dance company with many striking, unconventional performances under its belt.

“We are always described as being different,” says Kapila. “Although we like doing things differently though, we do not conceptualize a performance with the deliberate aim of being different just for the sake of being different. Everything is a work in progress- almost like writing a book without quite knowing how and where the story will progress. It is a lengthy process, but we always come away with new knowledge and inspiration.”

Promising that the performance will inspire a great deal of hope, 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.

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