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The powerful sound of silence

Cabaret Festival

Featuring a profoundly deaf dancer and a charismatic jazz drummer, Adelaide Cabaret Festival show Out of Earshot promises to change the way audiences experience music.

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“Silence … rather than being a lack of something, can be really powerful,” says Kate Denborough, co-founder of Victorian dance company KAGE, explaining the idea behind its latest work.

Out of Earshot explores the power of non-verbal language and was born through a collaboration with two very different but equally talented artists: contemporary dancer Anna Seymour, who was born profoundly deaf, and New Zealand-born percussionist Myele Manzanza.

“We had these interesting conversations about how different people experience sound,” Denborough says of herself and Seymour.

“She said that as a deaf person, it’s not that she doesn’t hear, it’s just that she hears differently. So it was this idea of exploring how sound is experienced differently … and how we can communicate non-verbally and through body language and emotion.”

KAGE frequently collaborates with other artists and has built a reputation for its unique and often provocative works. One of its recent shows involved dance and aerial acrobatics performed on and around a 2.5-tonne forklift.

However, this is only the second time in its 20-year existence that it has worked with a live musician on stage.

Denborough’s meeting with Manzanza – who she says amazed her with his ability to express emotions not just through his meeting but also through his body – was serendipitous.

“Myele is like a dancer playing the drums.

“He’s so physical and athletic, and just beautifully nuanced, so I could imagine how he could be one of the performers without being just a musician on stage.”

Manzanza, who is part of the Ross McHenry Trio, is physically integrated throughout Out of Earshot, which also features Denborough, her KAGE co-founder Gerard Van Dyck and other performers from the KAGE ensemble.

The opening scene sees the drummer dancing a gentle duet with one of the other performers.

“One of my favourite scenes is when the music is at its peak, at its loudest, and Myele has headphones on and Anna is just lying on top of the drumkit as he’s playing,” Denborough says.

“She can’t hear anything but she can feel it … she says she just loves it.

“It’s quite an extraordinary thing to watch, because as a hearing person you think of yourself in that situation and it’s inconceivable how you could be surrounded by that noise and not react physically; seeing a person being so beautifully calm and draped across this very kind of aggressive, violent sound is a really strong image.”

In contrast, there are many quieter, tender moments. A lot of the work has no sound at all, with the dancers relying instead on intricate technical cues.

Out of Earshot. Photo: Jeff Busby

The Adelaide Cabaret Festival program suggests those who attend Out of Earshot will never experience music in the same way again.

“It messes with your idea of what you expect when you go to see a show,” explains Denborough, referring to the fact that most live performance relies on sound – whether it is music, dialogue or narration – to communicate and provoke an emotional response.

“We are looking at how you don’t necessarily need sound to evoke those feelings, and that emotion can be expressed purely through visual physical movement and intimacy rather than relying just on audio cues to propel you further in the story.”

Out of Earshot is currently being performed at the Melbourne Jazz Festival, before coming to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival next week, bridging the genres of music and dance.

“It’s a fantastic thing, to break down stereotypes and barriers, particularly for a deaf audience, for whom a music festival is often inaccessible,” says Denborough.

“It shakes things up and gets people to consider what is possible and how the experience for an audience can be just as rich in atypical ways.”

KAGE will present Out of Earshot on June 14 and 15 at the Dunstan Playhouse as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, which begins tomorrow.

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