Supporting creative work by women
Isolte Avila co-founded Signdance Collective with David Bower three decades ago. The company’s signature is a unique fusion of signtheatre, dance, and original live music. Last summer, they collaborated with PopUP Theatrics on Broken City: Wall Street, which utilized the streets of Manhattan’s Financial District as its theater.
Signdance Collective’s production of Obie Award-winning playwright Caridad Svich‘s Carthage/Cartagena makes a stop in New York, July 19 through 21, at Theaterlab after a successful European tour. Set in an imagined despoiled, war-torn landscape, Carthage/Cartagena uncovers the lost voices of those who have been displaced and isolated by slavery, human trafficking, and forced migration.
Then, on Saturday, July 22nd, Avila and Bower will teach a workshop on their brand of performance.
Avila spoke to Works by Women about her background, working with PopUP Theatrics and the best advice she’s ever received.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Why theater? What first interested you about theater?
ISOLTE AVILA: I’m a trained dancer. I received my BFA from Cal Arts in 1982. And I loved working with actors whilst there. My mentors were both dance artists and theatre artists.
I believe the unity in the languages is part of what has allowed us to develop signdance theatre. This exploration of the connections between dance and theatre, with signtheatre at the centre, is vital and at the heart of signdance theatre.
WBW: What/who are your theatrical influences?
IA: My influences are an eclectic group of international artists: Pina Bausch (Germany), Gus Solomons, Jr. (USA), Donald McKayle (USA), Samuel Beckett (Ireland), Maya Angelou (USA), Arundhati Roy (India), Kirtana Kumar (India), Sanjana Kapoor (India), Caridad Svich (USA), Adam Reynolds (UK) and Ane Monro Theatre Company (Slovenia).
WBW: How did you and David Bower form Signdance Collective? What was the impulse? How do you approach your work?
IA: We started the company in 1985 as an exploration in the development of signdance theatre with the idea of fusing grassroots signtheatre with dance, improvisation, live music and other forms.
The company is committed to diversity and is international in its casting. This was an aim 30 years ago and still is now.
WBW: Tell me about Carthage/Cartagena. What excites you about this piece?
IA: It’s taken us four years to complete the work. The non-linear language of [playwright] Caridad Svich’s work allowed us to reach into the visual language development and enjoyment of the story. With such a complex script/poetry, the annotation into signtheatre of each canto /section took time to also ensure that the dance work could be organic to the theatre and dance.
WBW: How has your tour gone? What has the reaction to the piece been?
IA: Very interesting. The spring tour was really like a pilot…testing the water. The reaction was brilliant. The summer tour so far has been very big and beautiful with large audiences in Austria and Slovenia. Feedback so far has been very positive and as we shift and move the work from one venue to the next we are finding that audiences are very involved emotionally in Carthage. They ‘get it’ and at the end of the performance it feels like we are together.
WBW: You worked with PopUP Theatrics last year on Broken City: Wall Street, a show that used the Financial District as its theater. What was that experience like?
IA: It was a great pleasure and honor to work with PopUP, the cast and the third big participant in the story – New York City.
Every day, as we began, I would look up to the buildings in the Financial District – to the posh people, the people from the streets, the workers, the multitudes and feel a certain wonder and joy that this small band of creatives could make such an impact on this place …and this we did. PopUP is magic!
WBW: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
IA: To believe in myself…to always stay open…to take risks and not to take anything or anyone for granted.
Signdance Collective’s production of Carthage/Cartagena rolls in New York City July 19th – 21st at Theaterlab (357 West 36th St., 3rd Floor). Tickets are $20 HERE.
For information on the company’s workshop on July 22nd, visit HERE.