Spotlight Edition 5 – Surface Area Dance Theatre

Hello to all those reading, we’re grateful that you’re here to engage with Spin Arts and find out more about us! Over the next few weeks and months, while our shows aren’t touring, we’re going to introduce you to our team and our artists.

This Spotlight Edition shines a light on Surface Area Dance Theatre.  

Who is Surface Area Dance Theatre?

Surface Area Dance Theatre CIC, Est. 2007 is an award-winning UK dance company that places accessibility and engagement at the heart of all company endeavours. Based at Dance City in Newcastle upon Tyne, SADT have a wide-ranging reach across the North-East region and beyond. The company’s work is uniquely relevant and is one of few that is truly working at the interface between Sign Language, D/deaf culture and dance. The merits and skills of the company’s leaders, Nicole Vivien Watson and Paul Miller, and members who have enabled international engagement with a host of celebrated partners and institutes such as Barbican Theatre, Dance City, Baltic galleries, Turner Contemporary, The Ohno Studios – Japan and The New York Butoh Institute. Cultural exchange is at the core of the company’s mission and SADT strives to represent the UK’s diverse talents and abilities in all of the work we do.

In 2018, SADT became a registered Level 2 Disability Confident Committed Employer.

What does Surface Area Dance Theatre do?

Support Deaf artists to create and partake in artistic work and develop their own practice – SADT have worked with Paul Miller, Chris Fonseca and Chisato Minamimura.

Create accessible artistic work – SADT has developed an original artistic language that is greatly inspired by Butoh & British Sign Language, philosophy and social concerns. SADT invest in intensive periods of R&D, live performances and tours, interdisciplinary/cross art form collaborations and international cultural exchanges. Works include: ‘Auricular’, ‘Hand in Hand’, ‘Behind The Face of a Rock, Throwing Stones’. 

Reach and diversify audiences, creating accessible opportunities for the D/deaf, Disabled and wider community.

We have recently been commissioned by the Barbican Theatre to begin researching the use of Subpac technology and the impact it can have on accessible dance practice.

What does SADT stand for?

D/deaf inclusion and integration into the mainstream, so that both D/deaf and hearing communities can intermingle and connect. This is so important for personal and social connection and wellbeing.

Conversations with D/deaf and hearing colleagues over the past months have, more than ever, drawn attention to the necessity of communication, and the importance of staying connected. At present, we are beginning to understand the gravitas of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Surface Area Dance Theatre is grounded in the trust that art is an ally to society. In that breath, now is the time to focus on reconnecting members of our community who have been disconnected, isolated, and positioned on the sidelines of mainstream society.

What is your current work?

Surface Area Dance Theatre have successfully secured a place with the Barbican Theatre Open Lab 2020/2021. Ten SUBPAC units will be accessed for the duration of an intensive one-week residency held at the Barbican in London. Company members; Nicole Vivien Watson and D/deaf dance artist, Christopher Fonseca, Charlie Dearnley (dance), Alex Rowland (dance), Graham Patterson (visual art) and Tom White (sound design), will welcome 5 D/deaf community participants to be involved in the activity. Understating the use of SUBPAC’s within a dance studio environment is an entirely new field of exploration. This research will have the capacity to critically enhance accessibility and inform existing methods of participation and performance. We will establish a dialogue with D/deaf participants to understand the impact of this. 

SADT have also recently developed the work Behind the Face of a Rock, Throwing Stones, which is a synthesis of British Sign Language, Contemporary dance, Urban dance, and the Japanese dance style Butoh. The work is influenced by the Japanese concept of Ma (), which translates as ‘interval’ or ‘gap’, the ‘go-between’ hearing and not hearing. Behind the Face of a Rock, Throwing Stones looks at the entire body as a ‘listening’ instrument, capable of feeling, touching and seeing the colours and textures of sound, sound in space and sound meeting silence.

What have you learnt as a company and what advice would you pass on to those entering the industry, particularly D/deaf artists?

Consider access needs within your work and practice – can this be directly incorporated into choreographic and artistic works?

Can we work with artistic collaborators and performers who represent the communities we want to reach?

Diversity within the creative team and different perspectives and voices really encourage greater creativity.

Can we consider our social impact and make a difference to people’s lives through dance and creative practice?

Can we strive to make changes to the sector and therefore wider culture of the UK?

How do you make work and opportunities accessible to D/deaf people?

Consider including and offering realistic access costs with commissions and projects

Encourage your team to take up BSL training

Develop an understanding of D/deaf culture

Allow for extra time to facilitate studio time and participation, allowing time for communication

Create nurturing, safe environments and extra social care to welcome D/deaf people into mainstream environments

Support and create development and leadership opportunities for underrepresented people

Create vital employment opportunities from student placements to management roles inclusive of D/deaf people and those facing other barriers

Promote ethical practice and equality, considering barriers including disability, race inequality, LGBTQ+, low-social/economic backgrounds, gender & age inequality, to name few

Consider developing an Ethical Policy for the company as a reference point

Reduce stigma of Disabled People 

What have you been doing over the lockdown / past few months?

As well as fundraising, rescheduling tours and activity, Surface Area Dance Theatre have supported all its creative team to learn British Sign Language, taught by Deaf Co-Director and Artist, Paul Miller. This has brilliantly brought the company members together to connect during a very disconnected time. Now all hearing and non-hearing members can chat and enjoy their time together, we enjoyed a pre-holiday get together catch up on Zoom and recapped everything we learnt.

We hope you all enjoyed your break and we hope for a better year ahead. Please feel free to get in touch. 

Thank you for reading. Stay tuned for our Spotlight Edition
6 coming soon.
Take care!