With one notable difference, "Time, Space and Energy," performed by the Gallaudet Dance Company last weekend, could have been any student recital where proud teachers show off pupils who are making their first, sometimes faltering, attempts at choreography. But the incorporation of sign language with movement in several of the works made this program special.
The concert, at Elstad Auditorium, was dedicated to Dr. Peter Wisher, a professor of physical education who founded the Gallaudet group in 1955. Impressed by the beauty of American Sign Language when he saw a student signing "The Lord's Prayer" at a college ceremony, Wisher choreographed a dance version in which he invented a port de bras of exaggerated and stylized signing gestures. The dancers do not sign the words in the conventional way, nor do they mime. They dance the signs, and the result is a work of beauty and dignity. In particular, the danced/signed phrase "For Thine Is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory" is a moment of incredible theatrical power.
To be deaf is to fight a lifelong battle to understand and to be understood. Communication of ideas is also one of the technical and theoretical problems of dance. If dance is to be expressive, it must show emotions or ideas in a way that can be understood by the viewer. Wisher and the Gallaudet dancers have created a dance vocabulary in which arms weave patterns that are not only esthetically pleasing, but can also communicate to those who understand their language.