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January 14, 2004

Dance company to present performance designed for the hearing-impaired

From: Kansas City Star, MO - Jan 14, 2004

The Kansas City Star

Students at the Kansas School for the Deaf stretched and danced to a funky Afro beat Monday and Tuesday with some of Kansas City's professional dancers.

The two-day exercise was in preparation for a performance tonight by the Wylliams/Henry Danse Theatre at the University of Missouri-Kansas City's White Recital Hall.

A special light show will make the show unique. Pulsing lights projected above the stage will accompany the music, giving the hearing-impaired audience a more complete sense of the music.

"We translated the sound into abstract video images of lights that change patterns, colors and saturation density in an interpretation of each piece," said Paul Rudy, electro-acoustic composer at UMKC.

Kim Beardslee, director of the Gallaudet University Regional Center at Johnson County Community College, a co-sponsor of the event, said there is something else noteworthy about the show.

"A professional, nondisability-related company taking an interest (in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community), that's very interesting and very unique," Beardslee said.

The idea to stage a show for the hearing impaired resulted after someone asked the Wylliams/Henry company whether it would put on a show for students at the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe. The question was posed in September at the dance company's booth at the Plaza Art Fair.

The idea stuck in the mind of Wylliams/Henry co-founder and artistic director Mary Pat Henry, and evolved into a performance project for the entire deaf and hearing-impaired community of Kansas City.

"We've never done it for the deaf before," Henry said. "But we wanted to develop it."

With the help of the Olathe school's superintendent, Robert A. Maile, the dance company began to learn what was needed to make the music more understandable and the show visually effective.

Changes in the show ranged from the placement of dancers to the development and addition of visually interactive music.

By Tuesday, 435 tickets had been requested, including 240 for Kansas School for the Deaf students, employees and their families. Organizers expect about 150 tickets to be available free at the door.

Henry said she was impressed by the interest shown by the public.

While deaf and hard-of-hearing dance groups do exist, Beardslee said, the hearing-impaired population often is underserved by the art of dance.

It is the reason the school welcomed Wylliams/Henry's two-day pre-show dance exercise for the students.

The students danced to the beats of an African drum that sent vibrations across the wood floor of the school gym, allowing the students to feel the rhythm better.

Kyle Pucket, 12, and Trisha Waddell, 11, enjoyed the exercise.

"It was fun," Trisha said through a sign-language interpreter. "It was almost like my gymnastics class."

Kyle likened it to warming up before gym class.

"This program is meant to expose them to an area of the arts that they probably have not had a lot of experience," said Lisa Casparian, dean of student development at the School for the Deaf.

School officials hope Wylliams/Henry will make the exercise program an annual event for their students.

Although no plans have been made, Henry said this week's program was a good first step.

© 2004 Kansas City Star and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.