Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Seeing dance for the firs time

Visually impaired people enjoy art as much or more than most people and audio describing a dance performance helps


First, I thought dance is such a visual thing that I would never understand it, but now I find that I can enjoy it to the full," said Chan Zhi-ping (詹志萍), a blind college student, after taking in the premiere of Magic of the Dance (魔力之舞), the world's first audio version of a dance performance film.

In the screening room of the Chinese Culture University in Taipei last Saturday, an audience of some 40 visually impaired people felt the 12 pairs of tap dance shoes that were making sounds in the room, while listening to the audio description of an Irish tap dance group's most celebrated work. With the thrilling traditional music and Irish ballads in the background, a female voice described the tap dancing steps, as well as the stage settings, special effects and lighting. More voices dubbed the dialogues of the show. It was a busy 90 minutes in which complicated bodily movements were translated into language.

To describe a dance film is the Audio Description Association's (口述影像發展協會) latest attempt to expand the scope of cultural activities which the visually impaired can access and appreciate. As the audience fumbled and tried on the tap dance shoes and listened to the film with much curiosity and enjoyment, the project seemed to have achieved its aim.

"I realize that dance shows are not off-limits for me after all. Now I would like to explore the world of performance arts of other kinds, too," Chan said.

For four years, the association, the only organization in Taiwan to produce audio description programs, has made over 20 films and plays, starting with Public Television Service's drama series Sun Yat-sen. The most well-known programs are the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Performance Workshop's new play Mumble Jumble.

While dialogue-heavy theater or movies are relatively easy to do, the association took one giant step forward by audio describing fine arts at last year's Fauvist painter Henri Matisse's exhibition at the National Museum of History. Next to the three-dimensional renditions of the paintings, which the French co-organizer provided, the association wrote and described their combinations of shapes and colors.

"After we'd done fine arts, we wanted to go one step further by audio describing something usually was thought to be purely visual and that is dance," said Chao Ya-li (趙雅麗), general director of the association. Magic of the Dance is probably the ultimate achievement in terms of audio description."

The film seemed to have worked its magic on the blind audience. "It reminded me of the visual world that I lost. I can picture in my head what the show was all about," Chan said.

Lee Yi-huei (李怡慧), an audio book author, thinks that the prose description is the best part of the show. "The prose was so beautiful. It also told us about the lighting and setting of stage. The whole atmosphere was there," Lee said.

Lin Hsin-ting (林信廷), a member of Dance of Light Troupe, a dance group of visually impaired people which specializes in tap dance, was inspired to emulate the innovative choreography of the show. "The audio description was helpful in detailing interesting arrangements on stage, like the way they would dance into iron barrels. That inspired me a lot with my own choreography."

But Lin also found the description confusing as the tracks of English dialogue, Chinese translations, and captioning of the visual goings-on overlap sometimes. "It probably can't be helped because the dance shows are by nature too difficult to be fully described with words."

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