Review: Chyna, VAULT Festival

Not a single word spoken, just a 15-year-old girl, a dance floor and her teacher. Chyna takes audiences on a documentary-style insight into the life of young Chyna, a deaf dancer who ‘touches sound.’ The beauty of her movement and the wit of her expression makes it impossible not to fall in love with Chyna from the moment we see her on stage, and her cheekiness and personality within her dance that follows cements our adoration for her as we begin to understand a typical day in the life of a deaf child. 

Her playfulness and the joy we see her project through her accomplishment of dance and movement gives the piece an overwhelming ethos of pleasure and endearment, enhanced by the engagement and participation Chyna invites. She is also joined on stage by who we assume to be her teacher/helper, who becomes pivotal in the narrative of the piece and is used as a source of stimulation for many of the movement sequences. 

The piece in its entirety is a beautiful, emotional and insightful introduction to the practices of learning that a child who has difficulties with hearing or other disabilities may experience and be exposed to in an educational environment. However mundane and academic this may sound, Chyna’s personality through her dance and expression means that every scene has its own edge and excitement, and the comedy in the dialogue we see played out in the captions behind her gives the piece such a cheeky flair. The utilisation of her body and the way she interacts with the teacher and the audience gives Chyna complete control of the space, and we can see her adoration of being fully immersed in it as a performer manifest itself through her constant smile and the support given us, the audience, which we find ourselves doing without even noticing. 

We root for Chyna from the moment she comes on stage, and her constant expression of enjoyment and the shared play we experience with her becomes so nostalgic and heart-warming. The piece leans heavily on projection and visuals, which even if stripped away completely would leave us with Chyna completely able to transform the space into whichever setting of the journey she takes us on, however from an access perspective the videos do give the piece a final touch in terms of its wholesome message and strive towards accessibility.

Chyna is playing the VAULT Festival until 5 March. For more information and tickets, visit the VAULT Festival website.