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Hear the Dance: Audio Description Comes of Age

Recent experiments in describing dance, like the film “Telephone,” approach it not just as an accessibility service but as a space for artistic exploration.

by Siobhan Burke

Embark on an immersive journey that transcends the boundaries of conventional dance experiences, as recent experiments in audio description redefine accessibility as a space for profound artistic exploration. In the bustling landscape of New York City's large theaters, dancer Krishna Washburn, who is blind, recalls a pivotal moment attending a performance with audio description. Rather than feeling connected to the emotional depth of the dance, she left feeling alienated, sparking a transformative shift in her perspective. This experience led Washburn, founder of Dark Room Ballet and co-director of "Telephone," to advocate for more imaginative and inclusive approaches to audio description.

"Telephone," a groundbreaking film exploring the creative possibilities of audio description for dance, challenges the traditional norms of accessibility. Presented virtually by the New York City dance hub Movement Research, this cinematic masterpiece delves into the collaborative efforts of 15 dancers and 13 audio describers who were given full artistic freedom. The film unfolds as a sensory experience, where the voice of each describer blends seamlessly with Emil Bognar-Nasdor's atmospheric original score, creating a multi-layered tapestry of artistic expression. In poignant interludes, Washburn shares personal reflections, extending a warm welcome to blind and visually impaired audiences, assuring them that "Telephone" is crafted exclusively for their enrichment.

As the film takes center stage, it joins a wave of recent experiments in audio description that not only serve as accessibility services but also venture into the uncharted territories of artistic expression. Disabled dance artists, including Christopher Unpezverde Núñez, Kayla Hamilton, and Iele Paloumpis, based in New York City, have pioneered new forms of audio description that seamlessly integrate with their choreography. Beyond the conventional, the disability arts ensemble Kinetic Light introduces Audimance, a mobile app offering an immersive soundscape, allowing users to switch among multiple description channels and creating an enriched auditory experience.

Despite these groundbreaking strides, audio description for dance remains a rarity, with challenges in both quality and integration. Washburn emphasizes the need for describers to be an integral part of the choreographic process from its inception, ensuring a nuanced and emotionally resonant description that captures the essence of performances. As the dance world grapples with the evolving landscape of accessibility, "Telephone" stands as a testament to the power of inclusive artistry, breaking barriers and inviting audiences of all abilities to experience the magic of movement. In a world where dance communicates without words, this film echoes a profound truth: people go to dance performances not merely to witness movement but to feel something, and "Telephone" ensures everyone has the opportunity to share in that emotional journey.


Read and Hear the Full Article in the New York Times



Striving to remove barriers that prevent us from building a Diverse, Vibrant, Inclusive, Accessible Community!

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