Tag Archives: Jonny Cotsen

Review: English, National Theatre Wales, Dance House, WMC by Luke Seidel-Haas




Afternoon tea, Apple, Belonging, Brexit, Cricket. What connects these words and phrases? Well on the surface, not much. In the black box space of the Dance House at WMC, with audience sat in the round and screens at two ends, words from a pre-arranged lexicon flash up in alphabetical order on a screen. With the encouragement of performer Jonny Cotsen we the audience are encouraged to stop the lexicon and discuss anything in relation to these. English is a collaboration between National Theatre Wales and Quarantine and forms part of the Festival of Voice celebration. It is a live performance which is by nature different every night, and blurs the boundaries between creator/receiver and audience/performer.

In typically British fashion, people are initially rather hesitant to contribute to the conversation and instead sit silently in their chairs. For Jonny this isn’t an issue – he is an excellent and engaging storyteller in his own right. As words flash up he regales us with stories from his own life; from planting an apple tree for his daughter, to his time as a shepherd on a kibbutz in Israel, to his struggles during voice therapy learning to make speech sounds by feeling the vibrations on a balloon. As someone who is profoundly deaf and who has only recently started learning British Sign Language Jonny offers a fascinating perspective on the use of English and the ways in which people communicate.

With a strict time limit imposed by the stage manager of 90 minutes, our progression through the words continues apace. As people warm up to the idea of contributing, discussions bounce across the space – from the derivation of the phrase ‘arse over tit’, to a reminder of the poisonous qualities of the ‘daffodil’ Topics of conversation are generally light, with more contentious words such as ‘Brexit’ and ‘de-colonisation’ generally considered the ‘Elephant in the room’ (another phrase on the lexicon) and skirted over.

Occasionally the lexicon is interrupted by a filmed segment, or an invitation to contribute to the piece in another way. These range from the wacky to the surreal. This is a great way of breaking up the structure of the piece and ensuring that the performance never feels too much like an empty void which has to be filled with conversation. Towards the end Jonny encourages us to use alternative methods of communication – instead of speaking we use paper and pen to all contribute our ideas and answers. This provides the audience with some fascinating insights, from people’s first language (English, Welsh, Spanish, Dog) to where they consider home (the USA, Wales, New Zealand, Unsure) and many more. These serve as a reminder that while English may be our shared method of communication, we all arrive at it from different perspectives and angles.

Finally it hit me what the connection between the words was. They were all things associated with English/British identity. It is interesting that a production by NTW does not have more of a focus on Welsh heritage or identity, with Daffodil the only specifically Welsh centered word. Perhaps on another evening, with a different audience this may have come up in conversation. When the word ’empire’ flashed up, it is interesting that the conversation turned to the Aztec, Inca and Mongol Empires rather than the obvious choice of the British Empire. This only further highlighted the anglo-centric bias of most of the discussions of the evening.

The main difficulty in reviewing a show like English, is that while the structure and concept of the show will remain the same, the show that happens tonight or the next night will be radically different in content to the show the happened last night or the night before. So much of the show depends on the generosity and openness of your fellow audience members. This type of collaborative method for creating a show may not be to everyone’s tastes. However if you’re interested in seeing something a little different, in becoming part of a conversation about language and identity rather than just a passive audience member then English is a fascinating piece.


Live performance/performance art

Dance House, Wales Millennium Centre

20th June 2018

Performed by Jonny Cotsen

Directed by Richard Gregory

Part of the Festival of Voice – more info and tickets here

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting, sunglasses and indoor

Luke Seidel-Haas



Get the Chance Creative Associate Jonny Cotsen on #Fresh2Deaf

Get the Chance Creative Associate Jonny Cotsen on #Fresh2Deaf
Dance is a universal language. That’s why I think it is so special. Some people choose to sing in the shower every morning but me…I dance in the kitchen to start my day, and now I have some new moves thanks to Jukebox Collective and Chris Fonseca.
I walked into Jukebox Collective Studios based underneath the railway track in town on a cold, wet and grey Cardiff day, not knowing what to expect but excited about what was ahead. I was hoping that it would be a dance class that I could follow; where I could follow the moves of the teacher and which would make allowances for my complete lack of coordination…oh, and hearing! The class was physical, emotional and ended up being more inspiring than I could have ever imagined. I have tried to do a few dance classes in the past, but this is one is definitely the most memorable.
Chris Fonseca who led the dance class is completely deaf. Chris is a London-based dancer and choreographer has defied all by continuing to teach and dance despite his deafness. He shot to fame by being part of Smirnoff Ice’s “ Keep It Moving” campaign. Whenever I saw the advert or the promo poster it made my spine tingle because of Smirnoff’s hashtag #KeepItMoving and #deafdancers. The advert reiterated the fact that dance is a universal language and like he says in the advert… “We can’t hear the lyrics but we FEEL the beat!”

After seeing the advert so much last Summer I was a) desperate to meet him and b) I wanted to make this happen in Cardiff!

I was fortunate enough that Jukebox Collective wanted to bring this experience to Cardiff. Jukebox Collective are a creative company focused on the delivery of the highest quality performing arts education, performance and consultancy. It was founded by Liara Barussi, and is recognised as a leading company for dance in the UK. Jukebox studios has a particular emphasis on the training and professional development of young people.
With the exciting news that Jukebox Collective had become a new Regularly Funded Organisation funded by Arts Council Wales, we exchanged ideas of running an inclusive group within their existing academies. I was delighted to be asked to work with them to consult and advise on how to make this happen. I have always been a big fan of their work especially their involvement with ‘Breakin’ the Bay’ conventions, an annual event at the WMC (worth checking out if you haven’t seen to see it!!).

Inspired by what they had seen of Chris from the Smirnoff adverts, they were really keen to set up the first ever deaf dance group in Wales. I met up with Sylvia Kulesza, who co-ordinated the project and a plan was hatched to bring Chris to Cardiff for an open session at the studios. The hope was that this session would inspire deaf people and Jukebox could then run regular dance sessions for deaf people. I could barely contain my excitement of the idea and loved that Sylvia shared my passion and enthusiasm for making this happen. Sylvia also came up with the idea of calling it #Fresh2Deaf!
As part of the plan, I agreed to do a Deaf Awareness workshop the week prior to the dance class for the Jukebox Academies who range in age from 11 to 19 years.

I wanted the Deaf Awareness workshop to be engaging, fun and informative. I felt it was really important for them to learn how to communicate with deaf people, to understand the right terminology and have a better understanding of deafness. The students were great. We did lots of deaf-aware games, learnt basic finger-spelling and signs, and of course each one of them got their own ‘sign-name’. I felt so blessed to do this with such lovely and passionate group of young people.

The following week was the first ever #Fresh2Deaf open session!!
As well as the students from Jukebox Academy, half of the class were deaf and we all had the feeling that we were not going let our impairment put us off because we were all there for the joy of dance. Chris was really calm and made us feel really confident. Watching someone like Chris chase his dreams is really inspiring to watch and I can see how he can influence younger deaf people.
Chris used sign-language and an interpreter relayed the message for those that did not know sign-language. The attraction that Chris has to hip-hop is magnetic! He can’t hear the music so he relies on the vibrations from the heavy deep bass to count the music while he teaches so that he can stay on beat.

“I love hip-hop music because the bass is so strong on it, and I just love that,” he said. “The structure of the rhythm is something that I really connect to easily. All it takes is one beat, and I’m there!”
After a quick and very physical warm-up, Chris taught us how tocount the beat through vibrations, so that we could stay in time with the beat. The music was blasting so loud that the bass was heavy enough for every one of us especially those that were deaf to FEEL. I was initially worried about the older deaf members in the group but they had just as much energy as the younger ones. Seeing the older member made me think that age is no deterrent to dance, the same as our disability. Jane, who is 63 years old and goes to Bridgend Deaf Club told me afterwards that it was one of the best times she had.
It was also lovely to see some of the Jukebox Collective Academy students mixing with the younger deaf people. Taylor, one of the more experienced academy students was doing basic signing and fingerspelling too. That really excited me!
After the workshop we had a Q&A with Chris (and we needed a breather!). It was really interesting to hear him speak so openly about his life, his influences, his passion and he spoke with so much enthusiasm. Since his advert has been aired, he said that people have come up to him and said they have been inspired. Chris said there have been lots of really positive responses which are really lovely and heart-warming so he says his aim is to give something back to the deaf community and get more recognition of sign language. He wanted to show the importance of deaf culture and get hearing people interested in learning dance through deaf persons experience.

I have always thought and felt that dance was something that as a deaf person is not an easy thing to do because there is that major barrier, hearing the music! A lot of hearing people think that if you are deaf then there is no way that you can dance. Chris defies that perception and you have to admire him for that. Ever since I got into the Arts, with my vision in life to make the Arts more accessible and more inclusive, I like Chris, am working daily to break down those barriers!
My final thoughts…I recently got a tweet from Cardiff’s Boiler House, a venue that does graffiti and pop-up events, who reminded me that I had a conversation with them about 5 years ago I had spoken with them about my vision to do hip-hop dance classes in Cardiff for deaf people. I totally forgot I had that conversation and it just reminded me that you have to believe in yourself to make it happen and never give up believing! I hope Jukebox Collective #Fresh2Deaf project will lead the way to make this a reality to happen in Wales.

How do you know if you don’t try?
Contact abby@jukeboxcollective.com for more information about #Fresh2Deaf workshops