Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Perfect Gesture to Inspire Us All; A Dance Work Inspired by British Sign Language Is Embarking on a National Tour. David Whetstone Meets Its Newcastle Creator, Nicole Vivian Watson

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Perfect Gesture to Inspire Us All; A Dance Work Inspired by British Sign Language Is Embarking on a National Tour. David Whetstone Meets Its Newcastle Creator, Nicole Vivian Watson

Article excerpt

Labour MP Dawn Butler recently drew attention to British Sign Language when she used it to ask a question in the House of Commons.

Would the minister agree, she asked, that it was time BSL was accorded the same legal status as other languages since March 18 marked the 14th anniversary of its recognition by the Government? Ms Butler's question, and her use of BSL, drew a warm response.

For a Newcastle-based dance company it was a significant moment, lending giltedged topicality to its BSL-inspired dance work which is about to embark on an Arts Council England-funded national tour, starting in the North East at Berwick.

Surface Area Dance Theatre is run by dancer and choreographer Nicole Vivian Watson who also conceived Auricular, which is billed as a multi-disciplinary performance art piece inspired by BSL, sensory processing and communication.

Its first manifestation was back in 2014 when it was performed at Baltic 39, on Newcastle's High Bridge, after being commissioned by Dance City and Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

But the piece has been worked on and developed, as Nicole explains at Dance City where Surface Area is based.

"It has taken a year and a half to organise this tour, getting all the partnerships in place," says Nicole, who was born and brought up in the North East.

"This is the next phase of Auricular and it reflects the fact that as my understanding of BSL advances, I can integrate more dance into the piece.

"I've also been thinking more about the relationships between BSL and dance, which is an international language of communication."

Nicole's open and inquring mind and dance prowess have made Surface Area Dance Theatre a highly regarded model of innovation.

She recalls returning to the North East after training at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds and spending five or six years getting established.

"During that time I was developing my dance vocabulary and doing international research, making connections in Japan and New York.

"But it got to a point where I felt I was producing this interesting work but I needed something fresh and new to invigorate me."

The sight of two young women communicating using BSL at Eldon Square bus station in Newcastle did the trick.

Nicole didn't know immediately that BSL was what they were engaged in. As a choreographer, what caught her eye was the movement.

"It took me about two minutes to realise what was going on but from that very short interaction, I thought, OK, I'd really like to learn BSL.

"I went to Newcastle College and started on a BSL level one foundation course.

"I can remember the first class lasted about three hours and during that time we just worked through the alphabet.

"But when we first reached the stage where we could construct a sentence and communicate it was, like, wow! …

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