The Sounds of Silence

The people of Israel are remarkably innovative and Moshe Efrati’s dance company is a good example. It is called Kol Demama—the Voice of Silence. Such a name may conjure up many misleading images—for many of Efrati’s dancers are totally deaf.

How do the deaf and the hearing communicate with each other? How do the worlds of silence and sound come together? The deaf dancer depends on the picking up of vibrations initiated by others in order to perform the complex rhythmic movements required. In his work Efrati uses a range of sounds including the stamping of feet (which serves the deaf dancers), drum beats, animal calls and moans; and combines these with gentle choir-like sounds in a rich tonality.

By attuning themselves to the vibrations set up by stamping feet on a wooden stage, the deaf dancers can learn the necessary rhythmic sequences. Later, all that is needed is an opening and closing signal produced by the all-important bouncing on the floorboards. Sometimes only one deaf dancer is signalled and he or she in turn creates the oscillations, while dancing, to guide the rest of the group.

Deaf dancers always use their eyes to establish contact. Until the advent of Efrati’s vibration method, they were forced to have their eyes fixed on a leading fellow dancer or on a third person who would give the required signals. Physical signalling—such as slapping, touching, stroking or simply breathing—together with visual signals such as glances or winks enable deaf dancers to develop their talent.

A combination of these forms of communication can even allow a deaf dancer to dance a pas-de-deux. This intimate artistic relationship requires the greatest concentration. Contact between the two dancers—one deaf, the other hearing—is never broken off, not even for a second. The one communicates the sound and its quality, the other receives and reacts to it immediately.

Efrati’s company has travelled widely but has not yet visited these shores. There are hopes that this omission will soon be rectified.

Jewish Quarterly Winter 1985

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