Deaf Choreographer Creates Touching Ballet For Deaf And Hearing Communities Alike
October 23, 2019 is World Ballet Day and OnlyGood TV celebrates the occasion with a special story that highlights how a deaf choreographer teamed up with an Artistic Director to create a ballet that adds American Sign Language as an integral part of the dancer's movement.
BalletNext's search for innovation led the New York City-based company and its Artistic Director Michele Wiles to a first-of-its-kind production, a ballet called "Follin."
"Follin" is a performance that incorporates American Sign Language in both language and movement. To create this accessible piece, Wiles teamed up with deaf dancer and choreographer Bailey Vincent. Their hope is to encourage inclusivity within the dance community, and to increase awareness of the needs of people with hearing impairments, without sacrificing technical or artistic standards.
Vincent and Wiles met after Vincent sent the NextBallet founder a cold email pitching her idea. Now, the collaborators are 2 of the 5 dancers who perform in this groundbreaking ballet.
Both women express their hope that the emotional impact of their piece will resonate across audiences of varying abilities. Vincent believes it will be touching for deaf audience members, because "it elevates this language that means so much to the deaf community." And as for hearing audience members, Wiles says that "it's going to open their eyes."
This HooplaHa original video is produced by Dani Guitelman, shot by Fanny Texier, and edited by Kellie Sieban.
Vincent began losing her hearing in her teens due to a medical condition called atypical cystic fibrosis. Her internal metronome allows Vincent to dance in time without hearing the music. In her daily life, she reads lips in interactions with people with full hearing; and when she's choreographing, Vincent communicates through an interpreter. She trained at Rockbridge Ballet in Virginia before college and later danced with a small company in the DC-metro area. Today, Vincent is the Director, Choreographer, and a Dancer for Company360.
From left: Bailey Anne Vincent and Michele Wiles. Photo by Albert Ayzenberg, Courtesy Overdrive PR.
Wiles founded BalletNext in 2011 and serves as its Artistic Director. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, at age 10 she moved to Washington D.C. to train at the Kirov Academy on a full scholarship. She was a Gold Medal winner at the 18th International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria; a Bronze Medal winner in Nagoya, Japan; and a finalist at the Paris International Dance Competition. She received a Fellowship from the Princess Grace Foundation for 1999–2000, and won the Erik Bruhn Prize in 2002. After joining American Ballet Theatre in 1998, Wiles was promoted to soloist in 2000 and to principal in 2005. In 2011, she left American Ballet Theater to start BalletNext.
As BalletNext's search for innovation continues, hopefully we'll see Wiles and Vincent collaborate again soon.