Audio interpretation of dance a first for Opera Vlaanderen


The latest piece by Opera Vlaanderen includes a wealth of dance, which is being audio-interpreted by a team of experts from Antwerp University

A major challenge

Opera Vlaanderen is offering its latest production, Satyagraha, to a sight-impaired audience tomorrow in Ghent. While the company has worked with simultaneous audio description before, this production takes the method one step further: Satyagraha is made up of dance as well as opera.

Satyagraha is the second in the Portrait Trilogy of operas by American composer Philip Glass. The trilogy from the 1970s and ’80s loosely recounts the lives of three men who changed the world – in the case of Satyagraha, that of Mahatma Gandhi.

This new production was developed, directed and choreographed by Royal Ballet Flanders artistic director Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Danced by his company, it is a fusion of dance and opera rarely seen on stage.

So audio-interpreting it for the sight-impaired adds a new layer of challenge. Opera Vlaanderen is working with a team of translator and interpreters from Antwerp University to develop a whole new method. While the team has worked together on a couple of previous operas, they have never tried to describe dance.

‘Dance transcends storytelling’

The opera is sung in the original Sanskrit, with Dutch surtitles. It’s also not a linear narrative. “Traditional guidelines for audio-description for film and theatre start with the narrative: You describe the visual elements that are necessary to understand and experience the story,” said Nina Reviers, who is leading the project.

But dance, she continues, “transcends the traditional connotations of a story and injects a more abstract, more emotional and sometimes intuitive dimension in the performance. Dance isn’t about understanding, but about experiencing. The danger is in giving the performance your own interpretation rather than letting the audience experience it for themselves.”

So the team has been working on a method somewhere between “a pure description of the choreography and endowing a wider meaning, both implicit and explicit,” says Reviers. And all that with leaving time for the audience to hear the music and the song.

Even those who are not sight-impaired will be taking part in the special evening. “They sometimes appreciate audio-description,” said Opera Vlaanderen in a statement, “because of all the extra information that they are given as viewers.”

Photo: Rahi Rezvani/Opera Vlaanderen