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Friday, Dec. 2, 2011

Deafness no barrier for choreographer


LONDON — Despite being deaf, a Japanese woman in London is forging a successful career as a dancer, teacher and choreographer.

News photo
Visual beat: Chisato Minamimura teaches choreography to students in London in October 2010. KYODO PHOTO

Chisato Minamimura uses her own unique methods to create works of contemporary dance that have been performed in Britain and across the world.

Some of her pieces — which have been funded by a host of arts organizations — have been short-listed for awards.

Asked how she can arrange dances without being able to hear music, Minamimura turns the question around and asks, "What is music?"

She says she does not know what it is and gives her own interpretation through her dance, which she calls "visual music."

Minamimura admits that her work is not to everyone's liking, but her dancing has been praised by critics in the contemporary dance field.

Sometimes arranged to music, but frequently in silence, the dances generally involve two or more people making very deliberate, sometimes synchronized movements.

There is a lot of hand clapping and banging the floor in time. Some people say they can tell this is the work of a deaf choreographer because the dancers give strong visual cues to each other during the performance.

Minamimura has developed her own unique way of arranging the dances and avoids having to use sign language interpreters to convey her meanings to the artists, many of whom have worked with her before.

She develops a "score" on her laptop computer that she will run through with her dancers. There are also detailed sketches that set out the movements each performer has to memorize. On one occasion, she developed a routine based on the rhythms of voices recorded on a computer.

"It's a shame I can't understand music," Minamimura said. "I can see a traditional musical score but I don't understand it.

"I can feel the vibrations from music but it doesn't have any meaning to me. I have asked people what music is but no one can really answer it," she said. "For me, seeing the wind blowing or a tap dripping is a kind of visual music. But I'm not sure my concept of visual music is something which I can share with hearing people."

Minamimura was only 7 months old when she lost her hearing due to a life-saving injection she needed during a fever.

She was introduced to dance while living in Tokyo and found it more fulfilling than painting, which she studied in college.

Minamimura was selected to study dance at the Laban contemporary dance school in London. She later returned to Japan and taught dance in schools.

She then joined the Candoco Dance Company in London, a professional troupe of able-bodied and disabled dancers.

And it was while working at Candoco she was encouraged to get into choreography. When she left the company in 2006, she was awarded funding to create her first piece in 2007.

One of her career highs was when she reached the semifinal of the Place Prize, Europe's largest choreography competition.

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