ShaLeigh Dance Works‘ original production enVISION: Sensory Beyond Sight kicked off the summer season for the American Dance Festival and was a sensational and poetically eye-opening performance. Co-directed by ShaLeigh Comerford and Davian Robinson, the work blends elements of dance and theatre to tell a story of inclusion, accessibility, and support. Although dance and theatre would usually rely on a high degree of visual attention, enVISION was conceived with and for people who are low-vision and blind. Using texture, movement, sound, music, speech, and scent, the cast and stage crew delivered a 360-degree experience in The Fruit‘s blackbox theater. Aiming to share the event with all, ShaLeigh Dance Works extended an invitation for sighted attendees to experience the show through the world of the unsighted. All attendees were provided blindfolds and were given an opportunity to challenge perceptions of what dance can be and to understand the power of art without sight.

Thinking ahead of the performance, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to experience the show sighted or blindfolded. On one hand I wanted to see, so I could take note of every detail. And on the other hand, I felt that I would miss out on the emotional impact of the performance if I didn’t take the dive. If you plan on attending the show, I encourage you to take the dive and try wearing a blindfold. If, like me, you have never engaged with art in this way, it is well worth the try. Without the reassurance of sight, the emotional wave of the work remained at the forefront of my mind. In the words of Comerford, “This is a world that we the sighted will never understand unless we step into it.”

The concept of a dance show without sight felt like a mold-breaking concept to many of us, as the audience seemed to buzz with jittery excitement. Smartly, I think ShaLeigh understood what kind of energy the audience would bring in with them and capitalized on it. The first several minutes of the work is intentionally anxiety-inducing, especially for those who volunteer to partake in the unsighted experience. Blindfolded, I could only hear a multitude of shoes brushing along the floor as the performers surrounded the stage from all sides. Underneath the hurried footsteps of the performers, an electronic rumble of indeterminate origin grew louder from every direction. And even though I was still seated in the same chair I was in before I put on the blindfold, and even though I knew there were people sitting next to me and in front, I felt isolated. The rumbling intensified until it overcame the sound of the performers and left me the only person in the room until a shouted “stop!” from narrator Robinson desperately hushed the roar.

With every changing scene, the work exposed the many freedoms and difficulties of unsightedness. Combinations of loneliness, community, wonder, vulnerability, and self-assuredness ebbed and flowed as the narrators and cast guided us through, hand in hand. A particular outdoor scene left me teary-eyed as the sound of crunching leaves and wind chimes in a gentle breeze summoned a mental montage of all the backyards that I spent time in as a kid. Even now, I feel confident that I could navigate the backyard of my parent’s home blindfolded. As the sound of the windchimes was carried around the theater in procession, the marvelous overtones washed over me. Chasing that feeling of awe, I felt reluctant to take my blindfold off after the final scene.

When writing for shows, I often have a good idea of how the performance affected me and a rough structure that I want to use before it’s even over. ShaLeigh Dance Works’ enVISION reached me on such a deep level that I was still processing my reaction to it half an hour after I had left. Not only was the performance emotionally impactful, but I also felt a significant physiological change in me as well. I noticed just how hungry my eyes are and how they dominate my senses in their constant search for information in the world around me. This performance was a chance to reset and rebalance my senses. enVISION is a show that requires a committed level of vulnerability and trust from the audience, but the social and emotional payoff is enormous. The show ushers in the myriad perspectives of a community and shares it with all willing to participate.

This performance repeats through Sunday, June 5. See our sidebar for details. To see the schedule for upcoming summer performances, go here.