Choreography for Hands and Face

September 11, 2010

The subway, as always, was tumbling with humanity today. A deaf guy was “talking” to a friend, and he was so communicative that it made dazzling theater. Surprise, sympathy, annoyance, contempt, arrogance, relief, wariness, pride, and self-mockery all passed quickly across his face. His cheeks would puff with air, his eyes would pop open, and his chin glided sideways while his eyes went in the opposite direction. In between his hands made American Sign Language letters as quickly as a flowing river. Every silent utterance was made with such force that there was no way you could confuse how he felt. His timing was spectacular.

A few subway riders were mesmerized (including me, discreetly, I hope). And yet it was so intimate that others looked away. They guy’s friend was following him, but when she responded, she was gentle, not as forceful. I felt like I knew every opinion of his; I just didn’t know the subject of the opinion. I felt I could see his mind work. I felt he was the most sincere and precise communicator I’d ever seen. If he were onstage, he wouldn’t even need lights to dramatize his feelings.

Of course dancers who are deaf have a special way of speaking too. See our story about deaf dancers here.