IPA Press Arts Event News: ‘Telephone Film’ Reviewed

Display banner to identify Ellen L Gilmer as a Journalist-Correspondent for the International Press Association

‘Telephone’: A Celebration of the Fine Art of Audio-Described Dance

By Ellen L Gilmer, Journalist-Correspondent, IPA
With Input from ‘Telephone’ Co-Directors Krishna Washburn and Heather Shaw
Following my introduction to them and their Dance Film Project
By Elise S. Sobol, Ed.D.*

“Dance is visceral, not merely visual.” These words describe and celebrate the vital fine art and practice of audio description (AD) for dance. In their fascinating educational and enlightening film, Telephone, dancer-choreographers and film co-directors, Krishna Washburn and Heather Shaw reveal the pure essence and immense value of dance to be performed and experienced by blind, visually impaired, and sighted dancers and audiences.

Based on the principle that art is for everyone, this vital documentary screen dance film combines exemplary original dance sequences with artfully composed spoken descriptions created by talented audio describers. The resulting astute understanding and collaboration between dancers and verbal describers form a unique and essential art form that transcends visual impairments of all degrees of disability.

It provides a vital and viable means for blind and visually impaired audience members to experience, enjoy and benefit from exceptional dance performance as an artistic sensory experience. At the same time, it reveals the unique beauty and creative impact of audio-described dance to sighted performance attendees.

“One of the driving philosophies behind Telephone is anti-ableism, which is the belief that all people, regardless of disability or ability, should be able to live life fully. Every single person involved with Telephone (dancers, audio describers, ASL performers, musicians, and the production team), has an anti-ableist commitment to true equity in arts access.” – Krishna Washburn, Telephone Co-Director

Krishna Washburn, Co-Director of ‘Telephone’ Film

Photo credit: Krishna Washburn & Micaela Mamede
Image description: Krishna, a thin, pale-skinned woman with long dark hair pulled into a braid, poses on a studio stage. She is wearing a simple white dress with her shoulders exposed and a fluffy white headdress perched on her forehead and wrapping down her braid. She looks over her left shoulder as she lightly holds a straight cane between her hands and points her left foot behind her.

Throughout Telephone, the audio describers reveal a new mode of emotional word-dance description that transcends traditional neutral narration. Dance and description join to form an inspiring and empowering new art form that includes and enlightens all audience members.

Created during the global pandemic, Telephone promotes awareness and understanding of dance combined with audio description of dance as a major and vital immersive art form for everyone. It fully explains the extremely valuable answer to the question addressed by its creators, “What is a performance for?” All film footage appears in black and white with text displayed in white, yellow, or a combination of both on a black background. Dressed in dark clothing, all dancers in sync with their dance-phrase descriptions create dynamic kinetic artistry throughout the film.

The Film Montage

At the end of the film, the vibrant montage joins outstanding moments of each described dance into a creative, cohesive, and brilliant work of art. Each dance phrase adds a new and unique gem to this rare treasure of dance performance experience. Serving as an all-inclusive thesis or premise for this captivating audio-described film, the montage heralds the myriad ways that dancers and their describers can approach and present dance that is “visceral, not merely visual.” It also celebrates the creative impact of audio description as a form of artistic expression.

The unique expertise and exceptional artistry of these stellar dancers and describers have added many exquisite and exhilarating moments of synchronicity to Krishna and Heather’s initial thesis, methodology, and phrasing. This extraordinary melange combines skillfully synced and described dance phrases as unforgettable echoes of their initial concepts throughout this excellent screen performance.

Composer Emil Bognar-Nasdor carries finely tuned pacing and synchronization through the montage with exceptionally beautiful cadence and artistry. Along with vocalist Abigail Reno, he transforms the film’s credits into a song―a gentle and haunting audial scene that encompasses all the artistic nuances and echoes created by Telephone’s entire team of extraordinary contributors.

Telephone Film was created during a time of physical distance and limited capacity for in-person performance. The film includes diverse artists from across the globe, challenging the conventional approach to audio description and proving that accessibility practices are art forms in their own right, for all to learn from and enjoy. Our hope with Telephone is that it allows everyone to experience dance in a new way, expanding horizons and creating an immersive sensory experience for all.” – Heather Shaw, Telephone Co-Director

Heather Shaw, Co-Director/Filmmaker of ‘Telephone’

Photo credit: Lauren Hoskins, courtesy of ArcTangent Dance
Image description: Headshot of Heather (female, long brown hair, green eyes), looking at the camera, hands softly at one side of waist. She wears a v-neck black shirt.

The montage celebrates Telephone, pioneering fine art audio-described dance, as brilliantly continuing the ageless oral tradition of experiencing, sharing, applauding, and honoring dance throughout endless performances and eras.

Telephone Co-Directors: Krishna Washburn, Dark Room Ballet Founder,
and Heather Shaw, Choreographer / Filmmaker

Telephonefilm.com (Copyright 2022)

Black and white photo of ‘Telephone’ dancer Camille Tokar Pavliska

Image description: Black and white photo of ‘Telephone’ dancer Camille Tokar Pavliska wearing dark shorts and tee-shirt. She is in a deep lunge with her arms spread out, wrists flexed. Text is overlaid on the photo reading: telephonefilm.com.

Audience Member’s Musings

Comments from Experiencing ‘Telephone’ Film:

Heather Shaw, Dancer; Described by Michelle Mantione

“. . . dynamic, sure grace with energetic ease of kinetic expression and astute artistic sensibility”

Krishna Washburn and Arielle Cole, Dancers; Described by Ogemdi Ude

“. . . rhythmic elegance with exquisite merging of fluid feather-lightness and counterbalanced volume”

D.J. Robinson, Dancer; Described by Lillian E. Willis

“. . . dramatic, artful, emotive bursts paired with lucid, immersive, calm-flowing tranquility”

Camille Tokar Pavliska, Dancer; Described by Seta Morton

“. . . beautifully balanced, captivating elation—untamed undulations, freedom, joyfulness then melding from meditative to purposeful to quiet serenity”

Christopher “Unpezverde” Nuñez, Dancer; Described by Alejandra Ospina

“. . . joyful, celebratory fluidity with natural power and grace of expansiveness, quietly nuanced containment and incorrigible emotive expression”

Jessica “Jess” Reis, Dancer; Described by M. Rodriguez

“. . . spirited artistry of sculpted, flowing energy—dramatically linear, volumetric, rhythmic elegance—elastic, emphatic, empowering”

Louisa Mann and Marielys Burgos Meléndez, Dancers; Described by Ellice Patterson

“. . . energetic, luxurious, descriptive expressions defining splendidly synced creative movements and space—artistic, strident, and immediate with beautiful multi-directional poetry and prowess”

Marýa Wethers, Dancer; Described by Jordan B. Lord

“. . . eloquent motion phrases, from spirited exuberance to silken serenity, expand, then embrace space—abundant celebratory origins of astute artistic realizations”

Mayke Van Veldhuizen, Dancer; Described by Alice Klugherz

“. . . rapid energy-flow of liquid, undulating arm-dance paired with graceful, spirited rolls, turns, and spins enliven and exalt space with ebullient elegance and sheer kinetic beauty”

Pelenakeke Brown, Dancer; Described by Alyson Ayn Osborn

“. . . soft, full, expressive head swivels and rolls enhance body shimmies, bends, and upward sweeps—slow wall rotations accent and balance dynamic artistic kinetic symmetry”

Toby MacNutt, Dancer; Described by Constantina “Tina” Zavitzanos and Geelia Ronkina

“. . . skillfully, beautifully paced sways, turns, and downward spirals balanced by upward sweeps transitioning into slow, rhythmic rocking, kneeling, and a smooth forward ski-slide—then an upward, meditative face in sunward celebration—dynamic, captivating and empowering”

Michelle Mantione, Dancer; Described by Heather Shaw

“. . . elegant, exquisite sweeps, turns, arm swings, sideward gallops, and graceful skiing to the floor—vitalizing cobra and wide standing spins—softly vibrant angelic smile at sunlit window”


* Elise S. Sobol, Ed.D., Director of Music Education (Retired), NYU Steinhardt Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions; Advisory Board, Music Education Association of New York City (MEANYC).

A View of ‘Telephone’:

Telephone Film Trailer