A dance created for the blind and visually impaired dancers

Choreographer Shiri Teicher created a dance without sight

Dance without sight (photo credit: MOTTI TEICHER)
Dance without sight
(photo credit: MOTTI TEICHER)
In the ancient Indian parable of the Blind Men and an Elephant, a group of unseeing men attempt to understand what an elephant is. Each one touches a different part of the animal and then relates his impression to his peers. One grabs onto the tail and reports that an elephant is a long rope. Another touches its side and says that the elephant is a wall. Eventually, they become suspicious of one another and an argument arises. The parable has been used for centuries to point at the human tendency to claim absolute truth based on limited perspective. However, when choreographer Shiri Teicher asked a group of blind and visually impaired individuals what their take on this parable was, they unanimously shot it down.
“They said that a blind person would never behave that way,” she explained over the phone. “A blind person would never accept just one touch or just one side. They would always want to explore more. They felt that the parable paints blind people as stupid and shallow.”
In her months leading weekly workshops and a creative process with and for blind and visually impaired people, Teicher came to see how incredibly flawed that perception of the community is.
Teicher, 38, is the mother of one and is expecting her second child any day. She is a choreographer, performer and classical musician. Five years ago, she became involved in Yasmeen Godder’s Dance and Parkinson’s initiative. As part of this project, Teicher participated in and led classes for people living with the disease. In these encounters, Teicher came to understand that each person with Parkinson’s had his or her own story, desires and abilities.
Two years ago, she began to dream of reaching out to a new community. “I had this very private curiosity about people who had never seen or couldn’t see. I wanted to look at their movement in space. I shared the idea with Anat Danieli, founder of the Kelim Choreography Center in Bat Yam and she said they’d like to take it on as a one of their community projects. From there, I reached out to Marshal, the Service Center for the Blind in Tel Aviv. A group came together very quickly there. It was one of the most significant processes that I have been part of.”
She discovered that, like the Parkinson’s participants, the blind and visually impaired each arrived with their own set of abilities, limitations and reservations. “They are not one thing. I was surprised to find how incredibly varied their stories and backgrounds are,” she said. “There are very few people who are born blind. Most of them were born with sight and lost it along the way. Most of the members of my group lost their sight in the last ten years.”
Initially, Teicher didn’t have any set plans about the outcome of these meetings. “I thought that maybe I would write an article about it. I didn’t imagine that it would turn into a performance,” she said. Together with her group of around ten individuals, she began to explore movement in a safe space. “One of my first desires was to make a space that they could move in. The environment, when you don’t see, makes you close yourself off. You have to constantly beware of bumping into things. It’s hard to create a space where they could run. Suddenly to teach and work with people without using sight was interesting and challenging. We used a lot of guiding and being guided. We practiced bumping into each other. We used contact improv as a tool to deal with the possibility of bumping into one another. We worked alone with each person, running side to side of the room with eyes closed.”
Over the weeks and months, a physical practice was born. Teicher, together with dancers Yuval Gal and Maayan Gur and her group, developed exercises and eventually, choreography. The results of this process, a performance entitled As My Eyes Can See, will be revealed as part of the March Hare Festival at Kelim Choreography Center later this month.
Teicher made a point of ensuring that the show could be enjoyed by blind and visually impaired people. “I had a conversation with someone who has been blind almost her whole life. She told me she loves to see dance because she loves to hear the movement, the breathing and steps. I decided that the show needed to be blind-friendly. I contacted the Central Library for the Blind, Visually Impaired and Handicapped, which has a lot of books but also makes cultural activities such as theater and music accessible to their community. They hadn’t done dance before. We worked on how to present dance. It was a privilege. The show is the first dance piece that is accessible to the blind and visually impaired. It’s incredible because the dancers don’t see and the audience don’t see but there is still dance.”
As My Eyes Can See will be performed on Thursday, March 26 at 8 PM. For more information, visit www.kelim.org.il.