World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival

FESTIVAL DANCERS

Antoine Hunter of Urban Jazz Dance Company

NATIONAL/ETHNIC IDENTITY: United States
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR: Antoine Hunter
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Zahna Simon
First appearance in SF EDF: 2013
Website: realurbanjazzdance.com

Antoine Hunter is an American deaf choreographer, dancer, speaker, model, actor, writer and instructor. He is the founder and director of Urban Jazz Dance Company, an Oakland company that for ten years has performed all over the world. He dances in part to silence, and in part to the music of American jazz and other musical styles. His mission is to show people around the world, no matter where they are or who they are, that they, too, can reach their dreams. The company was formed to support and understand disabled and deaf artists, using the arts to speak their truth about the world in which we live. He’s been producing the Bay Area Deaf Dance Festival since 2013. Zahna Simon is his co-director.


2016 PERFORMANCE

DANCE ORIGIN: United States
GENRE: American Sign Language Dance
TITLE: The Silence
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR/CHOREOGRAPHER/SOLOIST: Antoine Hunter

Antoine Hunter presents an urban jazz dance solo, The Silence, in his original form, American Sign Language Dance. This lithe and powerful dancer is a member of the deaf community, and his choreography includes movements from American Sign Language, as well as components from jazz, modern, and classical American dance. The piece is about honoring yourself and others. It’s also about American Sign Language (ASL) as a form of dance and dance as a language, nonverbal and gestured.

The dancer’s body paint includes images of fire, water, and handprints, elements of the world. His red pants signify the blood connection that runs through our veins, and the music has a heartbeat rhythm. Antoine’s signing speaks a poem he wrote in high school, responding to segregation and urging people to work together. The choreographic styling evokes separation and silence.

Antoine says, “I know for hearing people, my words remain silent, as if I come from another world. But through my dance, I think people can better understand my silent world. At the end, I want the audience to join together in signing, to signal we are all one spirit. I hope people leave feeling we can all coexist, be part of each other’s lives in some meaningful way.”

Members of the deaf community understand deafness as a difference in human experience. Antoine Hunter studies deaf culture and is actively developing a new vocabulary in the “Deaf Culture of Dance.” He dances in respect for ASL, because from its origins as an 1800s merging of French Sign Language and signing in Connecticut’s American School for the Deaf, ASL has been a visible language, like dance. It’s a means of communication that works with gestures and postures linked in time to create meaning—by visibly resembling things, or referring to them with abstract gestures.


2013 PERFORMANCE

DANCE ORIGIN: United States
GENRE:
American Sign Language Dance
TITLE:
Risk
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR/CHOREOGRAPHER/SOLOIST:
Antoine Hunter
Soloist Antoine Hunter presents Risk, an improvisation that draws on diverse forms such as ballet, jazz, traditional African, hip-hop, gospel, modern, and American sign language. The piece begins in silence. When the music rises, the dancer lets his body respond. Hunter is deaf, and the unusual structure of this performance is designed to show how he—and other deaf dancers—feels a musical beat, and how he responds energetically through the athletic body. Hunter says, “Deaf is another culture, with different methods.” He calls his unique style America Sign Dance.

This performance is unusual in that it incorporates American Sign Language (ASL) as a form of dance, and it makes us aware that movement is a form of language, a language that is nonverbal and gestured. ASL most likely originated in the 1800s, from the intermixing of French Sign Language and local village signing in Connecticut’s American School for the Deaf. Some signs resemble the object or actions they refer to, and others have evolved to gestures that seem to have no relation to their topics. Like dance, signed language is performed within the medium of space, and like dance, ASL’s gestures and postures are linked in time to create meaning.

Members of the Deaf community tend to view deafness as a difference in human experience rather than a disability. Antoine Hunter studies deaf culture and has developed this new vocabulary in what he calls “Deaf Culture of Dance.” He has also referred to his style as “raw energy, rooted in freedom, uncontrollable passionate bombtastic dance.”

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