Louisiana State University - No Passport Theatre Conference 2016

These letters from afar not only speak from a place of dislocation but also speak fromthe borderlands of the real,s pace beyond representation and language, encircling the edges of trauma. The performed text of Carthage/Cartagena drew on multiple languages, English, Spanish, Italian, BSL, and ASL as a strategy to approach this “unspeakable” space of trauma through

the disconnected space between languages, and the gap between meanings lost in translation.

Signdance was the perfect company to interpret the piece

because they move between so many registers of language: spoken, sung, and embodied in their specific fusion of dance and sign.

Images of homeland, like a lemon tree, a cake, or a spinning top, were invoked as the final vestiges of subjectivity from the edges of the traumatic experience. Their approach was to interpret the loss of homeland as the structural loss of innocence.

Coming of age in the blown-out wasteland of Carthage/Cartagena means grappling with the shock of total loss, a retracing of the missing pieces of self, and transformation in a state of absolute

exile. The ritual structure of the choreography, a spiralling

transcendental meditation, made room for the co-presence of these lost voices—the casualties of violent acts of displacement— as they were re-imagined in performance… intense… riveting.''

Eric Mayer-García Louisiana State University - No Passport Conference

Ucheldre Arts Centre March 2017

Carthage was written by Cuban-American playwright Caridad Svich with the aim of drawing attention to the linguistic - let alone the social - plight of those displaced or isolated by slavery, human trafficking, and forced migration. Accessing the language of power, in order to improve quality of life - or even survive - is a real problem for those whose backgrounds have never given them the opportunity to master it. As such, it is a hugely relevant theme for our times, and Arts Council England (Production Grant) and Arts Council Wales (Taking Part Grant) is to be congratulated on enabling the company to adapt the text for a stage performance and tour it to places where people need a constant reminder of the importance of linguistic issues in their lives.

Back in 2003, I gave a talk to a UNESCO conference on the world's endangered languages, in which I made the case for the arts as a crucial means of drawing the attention of the public to the subject of language, and to the crisis facing the world's languages. A language becomes extinct somewhere in the world every three months or so, and their unique voices need to be recorded and documented so that their place in the history of the human race can be remembered. But it is not just languages that need to have their voices heard, as Signdance Collective's brilliant production illustrates. Within a language, there are areas of society whose voices are never heard - or, when they are, are little respected.

There is no word in the English language to categorize what the company has produced, for it is a mix of dance, theatre, music, spoken language, and signed language. I suppose the company's self-description, 'signdance theatre' comes closest. The hybrid captures the essence of all art, which is to make us 'see' in a way we have not seen before, and the juxtaposition of the different communicative mediums certainly gave this reviewer at least a fresh perspective on the function of language and its role as a means of unification as well as separation. The performance presented us with ten multilingual letter song-poems, exploring different registers of language, and exploited the full range of dramatic effect, from its wistful gentle musical opening to the visceral impact of unison speech and daring movement.

The members of the small company themselves illustrate the inclusiveness their subject-matter demands, with their focus on disability-deaf-led teamwork. We saw four in action: Isolte Avila, David Bower, Lionel M Macauley, and Angelina Schwammerlin, whose biopics cross the boundaries of colour, gender, and disability. Their dynamic and moving performances integrate so well in telling the story that one no longer notices who is black or white, male or female, deaf or hearing. This is inclusive theatre at its best.

The company's accompanying literature contains a few lines that perfectly summarise what Carthage is all about: 'Millions suddenly finding themselves marooned inside an alien and often confused, divisive cultural environment are finding that their voices have become muted. Carthage gives the quiet voice expression, a poetical plea through sign-language, dialogue, dance and theatre for cosmopolitanism, rationality, reason and compassion.'

It is a hugely difficult theme to address: what is it like to feel you have no voice? Harold Pinter addressed it once in Mountain Language. I did myself, in Living On. Carthage reminded me not only of the plight of speakers of endangered and oppressed languages, but of all who have to cope with limited speech or language, such as the ten percent of the population who have some sort of communicative disability - those affected by aphasia, stammering, language delay, and all the other conditions that speech and language therapists deal with every day. Writing about such issues is difficult enough; performing it is a much greater challenge, which Signdance Collective have very successfully met.

David Crystal OBE

Udegun Arts Centre Wrexham North Wales

March 2017 Carthage by Caridad Svich and Performed by Signdance Collective

In a theatre landscape where the socially motivated angry writers of the sixties and seventies appear to be ancient history, it is exciting to see this outstanding offering from Signdance. Carthage combines poetry, music, sign and dance in this masterly presentation of physical theatre. Based on poetry written by Caridad Svich the audience is propelled into a world where the voice and beauty of nature are ignored. But this is no fictional dystopian journey. We soon realise the performers are holding up our world for us to examine in all its brutality and inequality. We’re drawn into the isolation of those experiencing slavery, human trafficking and forced migration.

The fourth wall dividing the audience from the actors is very quickly dismantled and we soon begin to realise how our silence and inactivity makes us culpable. It is extraordinary how drama dealing with such suffering and barbarism can be so beautiful. This is due to the sparkling language of Caridad Svich’s poetry; the amazing acting of Isolte Avila, David Bower and Lionel M. Macauley and the haunting music of Angelina Schwammerlin.

This is a production that everyone should see. But be prepared to be thinking about it for days to come, and like me, to be filled with the hope of seeing it again and again.

Peter Read Playwright and Poet

London Together Fest 2015

On 26 November 2015 as part of the Together! 2015 Festival, innovative dance-theatre troupe Signdance Collective International performed Carthage, written by Caridad Svich. Angus McKenzie-Davie was at the Old Town Hall in Stratford to witness :


The international nature of the makeup of Signdance Collective make them a very suitable group to interpret the work of Caridad Svitch, an American playwright of Cuban-Argentine-Spanish-Croatian heritage.

This piece of dance-theatre opens in a bleak desolate landscape, (the Carthage of the title) perfectly evoked by the eerie gothic music of Lila Schwammerlin. We learn that the mother in the first “Letter from Afar” (a play on the Spanish term “carta ajena”) has been forced to sell her baby to survive in the wake of a terrible war. This sets the tone for a show which is about displacement, communication and coming to terms with unfamiliar environments. The whole piece is sometimes difficult to watch, as scenes are emotional and hard hitting but often strangely beautiful as well, as the performers reach moments of togetherness and hope within the chaos which engulfs them.

Throughout, Paunika Jones is often given the role of the victim, hanging on desperately to a suitcase containing a few paltry possessions as the only stability in her displaced life. The weight of it, as she drags it around the stage shows that as well as security, it is a burden, full of memories of a brighter past. Her oppressors revel in separating her from it and pillaging those memories, stripping her of the last link with home.

The ten scenes that make up the show explore the nature of Diaspora, whether through war, human trafficking or forced migration.

The fractured nature of communication is a central theme; people with no common language have difficulty talking to each other, especially after the traumas of war and displacement. This is both emphasised and overcome by the use of different tongues, the total integration of signing into the movement and choreography of the whole piece and simultaneous translation of that signing. As a disabled person, it is possible to see that displaced people share some of the same cultural difficulties as all minorities.

The singing and physicality of creative director and choreographer Isolte Avila brought some beautiful and plaintive moments as she evoked images of a lost homeland. Although one does not know the words, the emotion is plain to hear, and her dances with Ms Jones were a high point.

David Bower’s seer was powerful. As he moved between scenes, showing us pictures of the lost and the departed, several times he connected the dance into a whole; from independent movement the performers moved into canon and then a definite (if frenetic) unison with him.

Antoine Hunter was amazing; his energy as he flung himself around the stage was exhausting, and the characters he brought to life, from people trafficker to rapist to friend were by turns horrific and tender.

In fact, all of the dancers/actors had very different physicalities and styles of dance. From African influenced, to Cuban, classical and contemporary, movement passed fluently between genres, often mixing them all, linked by soaring guitar sounds. The close-contact work between the performers showed the differences of culture and how we overcome communication difficulties and physical differences, and in turn, the disenfranchisement of many of us.

If you get the chance, see this show, if not, follow the links below for films/photographs etc. It breaks down the barriers between mainstream performance and that involving performers with impairments, indeed, it is hard to see this piece working as well without the challenges that the actor/dancers bring. DAO