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Hear the Dance: Audio Description Comes of Age



For Núñez, the choice to build audio description into his work, rather than providing it through an optional headset, came in part from a desire for “everyone to be on board,” he said. “I wanted the nondisabled community to experience audio description, as well.”

At Kinetic Light, Laurel Lawson, the developer of Audimance, would like to make the app available to other dance companies, allowing anyone to offer audio-described performances. In addition to funding, reaching that goal will require “getting choreographers to understand how exciting this is — how much more there can be to their work,” Lawson said.

Cheryl Green, a describer for Kinetic Light, said that slowly but surely more arts organizations are understanding the importance of audio description. “I think the message has gotten out: D.E.I. needs to be D.E.I.A.,” she said, using the shorthand for diversity, equity, inclusion and access. “Accessibility is not hard, and it’s not scary.” Not to mention, she added: “It grows your audiences. It simply does.”

As Washburn spreads the word about audio description, she also stays grounded in the communities closest to her. What matters most to her about “Telephone,” she said, is how it lands with disabled audiences, like the regulars in her Monday-night online ballet class.

“When you’re a disabled person who is drawn to dance, drawn to art, you kind of feel alone,” she said. “And what I hear from my students the most is that this film makes them feel not alone.”

Audio produced by Adrienne Hurst.

Video credits:

“Telephone” excerpt (2022): directed by Krishna Washburn and Heather Shaw; choreography and performance by Camille Tokar Pavliska; audio description by Seta Morton; American Sign Language performance by Ian Sanborn; music by Emil Bognar-Nasdor.

“DESCENT” excerpt by Kinetic Light (2018): choreography by Alice Sheppard in collaboration with Laurel Lawson; performance by Sheppard and Lawson; audio description by Cheryl Green, George McRae, Erin deWard, Eli Clare (poetry), Dylan Keefe (soundscape); music by Joan Jeanrenaud; lighting and projection by Michael Maag.

“The Circle or Prophetic Dream” excerpt (2022): choreography by Christopher Unpezverde Núñez; dance performance by Núñez and Rafael V. Cañals Pérez; audio description by Núñez; sound composition and performance by Alfonso Poncho Castro.