White Cane Premiere Ludus Festival

Hear an excerpt from our current Touring Performance: “White Cane”

“I happened to be rushing on my way to work, and became so completely captivated by the music that I returned in my lunch break. From the moment I put my radio headphones on I felt transformed, and I noticed this place where I come everyday so very differently. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!”


Victoria Gardens, Leeds City Center. Ludus Festival. FREE

  • June 20th Morning workshop 10 – 12 and afternoon Performances
  • June 21st Ludus Thinks Discussion
  • June 22nd morning workshop 11- 1pm and afternoon performances


Takashi Kikushi one of Salamanda Tandem’s performance team.

Photograph: Geoffrey Fielding

Salamanda Tandem’s White Cane for Victoria Gardens in Leeds City Centre is designed to generate creative dialogue between visually impaired, blind and sighted people, both as performers, and audience. It places the blind and visually impaired person’s experience as central to the aesthetic of the work and it’s process. The piece takes local community performers and an audience of passers by on a journey led by visually impaired performers Mickel Smithen and Takashi Kikuchi who use their long white canes to transmit the world as seen, heard and felt through the rolling ball of the cane as it explores the ground. The long white cane becomes a creative medium, an acoustic source for ‘sounding movement’ and shapes the possibility of blind and visually impaired people as choreographers.“

Long-cane performers build up a deep connection with their environment, acting as guides to their sensory world, in an unfolding dialogue between performers and public. A team of visually impaired performers explores the square and environs using their long white canes. The cane’s ball moves across the ground, picking up bumps, cracks, grooves, levels and nuances. It feeds back sensory information through the hands and bodies of the performers. As they tune into their environs, patterns of movement emerge and the performance emerges. Co-composers Duncan Chapman and Isabel Jones pick up the fascinating sound of the ball and send via radio signal to audience headsets. On the way, that sound is mixed with live sung audio description, the sound of Takashi playing his viola, vibration and touch signals”


Salamanda Tandem 2014: Audience and performer listen through radio headsets


Isabel Jones audio describes Mickel Smithen’s Journey

Salamanda Tandem’s Touchstone at Corby Cube 2014. Commissioned by Fermynwoods Contemporary Art

Co-composers Isabel Jones and Duncan Chapman

Photo: Geoffrey Fielding

One of the key aspects of White Cane is audio description (AD), this will be transmitted through radio headsets to the general public by co-composers Isabel Jones and Duncan Chapman. Audio description (AD) has recently become available via digital TV, and the major TV channels are now legally obliged to provide it on 20% of their programmes. But it is a complex, challenging, and largely undeveloped form, which can enhance enjoyment (or not) in live performance. Since the very early days of Salamanda Tandem, (est. 1989) we have been exploring this, considering how audio description in rehearsal and performance can make it possible for blind or visually Impaired people to take the leap from passive recipients, to being active creators in the process of making performance. The role of co-director and blind person Lewis Jones was key here for us and we were able to embed the principle very early on in: Smell of The Blue 1992, Subvision 1994, BodyCam 1996, Eye Behind the Eye 1999, Via Crucis 2004 and Touch Talk 2005. Often AD separates visually impaired and blind people from the rest of the audience, transmitting an entirely different experience to them, in White Cane we consider this and explore how performers and audience whether blind, visually impaired or sighted could take the same journey in sound.


Mickel Smithen leads an audience through Corby Cube  commissioned by Fermynwoods Contemporary Art

The Question of Barriers – Mickel Smithen

“I have worked with Salamanda Tandem as an associate artist for 8 years, and have been involved as a performer in 13 site specific performances so far. In the work we do at Salamanda Tandem, audio description is so closely embedded it has become part of the art work itself and the process. It’s not just meant as a special thing for VIP’s, it is for everyone and it enables me to take a lead in the work. It shows how visually impaired people (VIP’s) can educate others and how we can make a contribution to the art itself”

The Question of Equity – Isabel Jones

My father Lewis Jones was a deafblind man and a Welshman who lived in Nottingham for most of his life. He was one of three blind brothers and the co-founder of Salamanda Tandem in 1989. Sadly he died last year. Our work together was profound, and explored the meeting between his inner world of synesthesia and my work as a choreographer, composer and director. Our work together not only influenced me and Salamanda Tandem but also the growth of somatic practice and the field of dance and disabled people internationally.

Central for my father Lewis Jones and I in founding Salamanda Tandem, and in directing ‘Eye Contact’ a company of blind, visually impaired and sighted dancers from 1992 – 2006, was to raise the question of ‘equity’. Blind and visually impaired people become accustomed to the idea of being watched by sighted people without reciprocation. Looking could even be understood as a form of touching without the socially unacceptable problems associated with physical contact. ‘Do Not Touch’. A blind person can neither, look or touch in return. Vision is above all other senses the most dominant in society, and it goes for dance too, where accessibility for VIP audiences is rare. For participation too, in an art form where high status is placed in training upon the ability to learn movement via imitation from what we ‘see’ and only a small faction use somatic methods. In such a climate, leadership for people where sight is not their dominant sense, relies on a paradigm shift from inside the artform itself.In our latest works Ad Astra made a the finale of an international symposium in Estonia 2013, and our Touchstone solo exhibition and performances 2013 and 2014, we took this a step further in devising a duet between 2 visually impaired dancers: Mickel Smithen and Indra Slavena who performed independently without sighted partners. Another innovation came through sound where one of the dancers Indra spoke directly to fellow performers guiding them live through ‘a small dance’ as she had heard Lewis do in SubVision 1994.


Now in our latest work White Cane

One of my most important childhood experiences was of observing my father’s extraordinary sensitivity to touch, in handling his white cane and in the flow of movement that followed his mind as he handled a stone or utilitarian object like a cup. It was clear to see the connection between inner mind and outward gesture and I found such beauty and integrity in it.

On the other hand, where external visual references are dominant, it is easy to become disconnected. Bombarded with visual information we can just ‘tune out’. This becomes a particular challenge for visual artists and the medium of ‘dance performance’ in particular. In trying to get an audience to ‘tune in’, the choreographer trains their dancers to dance ‘faster, higher and stronger’, leading us towards an often stilted process of rehearsing which can leave us feeling empty too. A body that doesn’t fit the mold is made redundant from such a process; certainly there is no place for a child, non-dancer, disabled, older person or office worker here. Music, sound, then audio description if it exists are put into service for the dance and rarely developed as an integral part of the work. To my mind, these are terrible losses for the field of performance, and a desire to do something about that has become a constant theme in my work over the last 25 years.


Salamanda Tandem: essentially


I’m not the first to discover that if we can focus performance away from the notion of ‘rehearsal’ and more towards ‘spontaneous’ or ‘lived experience’ and be ‘in the moment’ now, we are somewhere closer to bringing audiences and performers together in mutual appreciation. Performance becomes like ‘real life’ and ‘real life’ like performance and we get closer to the very purpose of it. Where the inner imagination meets outer experience is the holy grail of the performer, and ultimately what makes us want to witness it.

One way in which I have particularly set out to achieve this is by making site-specific events for buildings and spaces where people are unaccustomed to seeing performance. This can helpfully change expectations and bring to light the potential for new things happening moment by moment. In White Cane we take to the fascinating Victoria Gardens a big busy place in front of the library, town hall and art gallery

A theatre or concert hall with its traditional arrangement of seats and stage, require the art work, performer and audience to behave in a certain way; any change from that needs significant effort, whereas in site specific work spontaneity is in the nature of the beast, we simply have to accommodate the possibility. This could happen with light, architecture, people, sound or movement, so if the aesthetic and compositional structure is designed to accommodate that, then each and every performance is significantly different, which keeps the work fresh and energetic which is what I find fascinating.

We want to create a work at that involves our audience as part of the performance using sung/spoken audio description and movement, exploring how the ‘onlooker’ as audience or choreographer, meets the ‘looked upon’ as performer or participant. The key to generating a space where both enter the creative frame, leaders/ followers exchange roles meeting through deep sensing, and a kind of mutual gaze supported by sound.

Catch this at http://www.ludusfestival.org

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