DREAM DANCE 2016: International Deaf Dance Showcase in Hong Kong
For the first time ever in the summer of 2016, Deaf dancers from around the world came together in Hong Kong for two weeks of collaboration, networking, and a sharing of knowledge and skills, which culminated in the production of a show called DREAM DANCE.
This project was an idea I had dreamed up about two years prior. Since I began my journey of becoming a dancer and choreographer, I realised the importance of traveling around the world to meet Deaf artists. The Deaf Explorer grant in 2013 kick started my journey of global networking and collaborations which has since opened up so many opportunities for me - not only at home, but abroad too.
I had envisioned that DREAM DANCE would be a uniquely special event. Although planned as a one-off, my hope was that this event would develop new relationships between Deaf dancers who had never met before. I know all too well the power of networking - it has done me wonders by opening new doors and paths in my life that I could never have imagined.
I wrote a post called The Power Of Networking - describing a perfect example of how networking opened up a series of incredible opportunities for me.
The aim of DREAM DANCE 2016 was to bring together Deaf dancers from different countries with different cultures, languages and customs, and unite them through a shared love of dance and a shared identity - that of being Deaf - this was more important than the actual show itself.
"Networking is not about just connecting people. It's about connecting people with people, people with ideas, and people with opportunities."
- Michele Jennae
PLANNING THE EVENT
It was around the time I had returned from a fantastic trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina working on The Complete Freedom Of Truth project in August 2015, that I began to envision a Deaf dance showcase. I wanted it to be in Hong Kong because I had already established a relationship with Fun Forest Deaf dance crew there. It was fitting also because Fun Forest had been waiting for an opportunity to host a showcase event there anyway, so a collaboration between myself and Fun Forest could make this event a reality.
I had just been awarded a small grant to be used for the purpose of creating a collaborative dance show, but it was not enough to fully cover the costs of making such a show, let alone a show in Hong Kong. So to make up for this, I had to seek as much support elsewhere as I could. Fun Forest crew were able to find accommodation, studio spaces, a choreographer, and a venue for the showcase, at the lowest prices possible, and with their status over there, they could draw in a decent audience. However, I had to reach into my own pockets to contribute to the project also - which I was happy to do because I knew this event would be special.
So after lots of research finding suitable accommodation, studios and flights, lots of Skype meetings with Fun Forest and other potential Deaf artists who showed an interest to take part, we decided on the 21st of July the following year.
In January 2016, I put down the deposit for the venue of the event - JCCAC (Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre). Also at this time I began designing rough promotional posters for the event, as we would be selling tickets to the Hong Kong public.
I wanted the show to support a good cause, so between myself and Fun Forest, we decided to use the money generated from the ticket sales to benefit the Hong Kong Deaf youth - by allowing them to have access to studio space and dance tuition so they could plan and prepare for performances on a TV show in December 2016.
By March, we had confirmation from some of the artists taking part, and those who reluctantly could not. I had booked my flights at this time and by May, the accommodation and rehearsal studios had been confirmed. The promotional poster had finally been designed and published across social media - it included a combination of English and Cantonese texts.
NEXT STOP: TOKYO, JAPAN
Before heading to Hong Kong though, I took the opportunity to visit Japan since I was in the Far East. Two weeks earlier, I was fortunate to make contact with a wonderful Deaf dancer in Tokyo called Daichi, and he agreed to help accommodate me in Tokyo at his home. Not only did he allow me to stay at his place, he also found other Deaf friends to guide me around Tokyo every day of my stay there, and he even arranged for me to run some dance workshops there.
I was really impressed by his generosity and kindness. This is one of the amazing things about Deaf culture: all around the world - Deaf people help each other out by giving their guests a place to stay, guiding them around their homeland, and even buying dinner for them. I was very lucky that my new Deaf friends in Japan were extremely helpful to me, and always insisted on paying for my dinner, coffee, and metro fare.
"One of the amazing things about Deaf culture is that all around the world, Deaf people help each other out by giving their guests a place to stay, guiding them around their homeland, and even buying dinner for them."
In one incredible week in Tokyo, I had made many new friends whom are some of the kindest people I have ever met. I also had the opportunity to meet Daichi and his crew of dancers, who will be taking part in DREAM DANCE in Hong Kong. I miss the wonderful people I met in Japan, but I know I will see them again one day.
HONG KONG BOUND...
I was finally on my way to Hong Kong from Tokyo after an intense week there.
On my arrival, I met my brother at the airport - as he was visiting Hong Kong for a short vacation. We made our way to Tsim Sha Tsui district, to our hotel on Nathan Road - which is my brother's name coincidentally. In the evening we met Jason Wong of Fun Forest and we went out for dinner.
FIRST DAY IN HONG KONG
After a much needed good night's sleep, I met Jason again in the morning and we headed to the mall to meet the rest of his crew. I met Ariel Fung again, after three years, and their new crew member Angel Yam.
We also met two new Deaf dancers taking part in DREAM DANCE, they are: Nana Yan from China, who arrived that morning after a 10-hour train journey from Hangseng, and Ava Blake, who flew in from Germany. We had a traditional Hong Kong breakfast together and then headed to the studio for our first day of rehearsals and planning of an international dance collaboration performance for the show.
In the studio, we met KJ - a hearing dancer and choreographer, who usually choreographs for Fun Forest's performances. He's a lovely chap whom we paid to teach us the international collaboration performance over the next two weeks. We had a long productive day working on our collaboration routine, and also took the opportunity to learn about each other.
In the studio with Fun Forest, KJ, Ava, and Nana.
Many Deaf people around the world can converse in a universal language called International Sign Language - a hybrid, unofficial language developed by the Deaf which is made up of a mix of American, French and other sign languages to communicate with people from different countries. However, not every Deaf sign-language user worldwide can converse in ISL.
During the collaboration project in Hong Kong, not all of us could use International Sign Language.
But, by the time we completed the show, we had all developed ways to communicate and those who didn't sign in ISL before, had learned the basics of it. This was the case for some of the Deaf dancers here in Hong Kong too.
We performed to a packed out audience which included Deaf, hearing and hard of hearing Hong Kongers, at the JJC.
Each one of us contributed our best efforts - not only collaborating in a single group performance together, but in several group performances too, for example, I led the group to perform one of my Michael Jackson choreographed pieces that I often performed with Def Motion.
There was also a large group performance by Fun Forest and hearing dancers from Hong Kong University (which was rehearsed before we got together), there was an explosive Dance Battle between Fun Forest representing Hong Kong and Limit Break of Japan, there were some sign-song solo and duet performances, and there was a large group performance featuring the Hong Kong Deaf Youth kids for the grand finale. Plus, each one of us performed a solo piece or two.
The show was extremely well organised and ran smoothly, which was impressive given the short 2-week timeframe we had together in Hong Kong.
What really struck me about this event was how Deaf artists from various different countries were able to organise and perform together in our shared art form of dance, and pull it off extremely well. Although we are all Deaf and use sign language, each of us uses different sign languages, nonetheless, we discovered a middle ground through International Sign Language to communicate, work together, and develop friendships.
Photo of 'The Drill' military-style performance that I taught the group.
Head over to the Gallery page to see more stunning photos of the event. Photos courtesy of 11graphy and LEW Image (Hong Kong).
Special thanks goes to the technicians at the JCCAC, the MCs: Aaron Wong and Jessica Zhao, the Performing Arts students from Hong Kong University for their contributions, KJ for his choreography, 11graphy and LEW Image for the superb photography, and all the performers who took part - Daichi and his crew Limit Break from Japan, Ava from Germany, Nana Yan from China, Fun Forest of Hong Kong, and the kids from Hong Kong Deaf Youth for their hard work.