Bill Shannon

Bill Shannon is an interdisciplinary artist and maker who explores body-centric work through video installation, sculpture, linguistics, sociology, choreography, dance and politics. Bill has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Choreography, a Foundation For Contemporary Art Fellowship in Performance Art, and has worked as a choreographer and performer for Cirque Du Soleil. Bill’s contributions to dance include a very specific movement vocabulary evolved through his creative use of crutches as a child after the discovery of a physical disability that effected his ability to bear weight in his hips. Bill’s subsequent immersion in the emergent youth cultures of hip-hop and skateboarding further contributed to his autodidactic form on crutches. Shannon eventually moved to New York City and became a fixture at underground dance clubs, where he fused his history of childhood play on crutches with his contemporary kinetic expressions of hip-hop and skateboarding. The result of this fusion was a singular style of mobility, performance art and dance that required multiple new designs and fabrications of modified crutches to sustain technical advances in his movement practices.

While in New York, Bill’s interdisciplinary dance works focused on translating "street dance" into the proscenium context were presented at PS122, Dance Theater Workshop, and The Kitchen, among others in NYC and globally. The New York Times hailed Shannon's form of movement on crutches as "defying gravity" as his name grew in underground street dance battles including the Rocksteady Crew Anniversary Battle and Seattle's Freestyle Sessions. Over the period of a decade Bill became a fixture at NYC’s famed Club Shelter, and a lifetime member of the internationally renowned StepF?nz Crew.

In 2001 Bill was offered a starring role as a performer in a Cirque Du Soleil production, Varekai, but opted to become part of the creative team, performing at special events and training an understudy to tour with the show. In 2004, expecting their second child, Bill and his family relocated to Pittsburgh, where he continues to work in performance, utilizing video installation and metal sculpture in solo works for the stage and street. In addition to his work as a performer, Bill frequently lectures on his performance practice and the phenomenological and linguistic framing he has created around his street practice globally. Shannon’s life and creative work are currently the subject of a documentary film in progress, The Art of Weightlessness.

In 2016 Bill was awarded a National Dance Project Production Award from New England Foundation for the Arts, a Heinz Endowment Small Arts Award to support the development of his latest work, Touch Update. Currently Bill Shannon is a Fellow of the Frank-Ratchye Studio For Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University of Pittsburgh and the Penn Avenue Creative Artist in Residence at Kelly Strayhdorn Theater. Bill’s work, Touch Update is being created in collaboration with dancers Slow Danger and Get Down Gang and VJ / Mapper Projectile Objects. Touch Update will premiere at Kelly Strayhorn Theater's newMoves Contemporary Dance Festival in Pittsburgh May 11 and 12, 2018.

Work in Development | April 3 - 14, 2017

Touch Update

Bill Shannon came to MANCC as a Visiting Artist for his first residency to develop Touch Update, which combines movement, wearable projection technology and video installation to explore the significant and often subtle implications of physical human contact.  The project dissects and dismantles the multiple online identities we create in order to offer the world a curated window into our lives—a version that at times masks, manipulates and alters our lived experience while simultaneously paralleling it and recording a skewed version of it.

As part of the creation process, Shannon stages performances in public spaces that are observed by a handful of “artist witnesses” who then document the experience through their creative lenses. These responses are shared as unique documents that replace the ubiquitous “proof” of digital photography and disrupt the primacy of video as an immutable form of record.

On stage, dancers inhabit sculptural fragmentations of themselves, breaking out via text messages and emoticons in search of an exquisite embrace. Cubist-inspired wearable video masks present the performers’ pre-recorded and scripted faces, as real emotions are expressed beneath—digital identities overlaid on “real" life. Embedded in physically oppressive trappings of technology, the performers reveal their yearning to connect, as a choreography emerges in which bodies learn to navigate mobility in the absence of apparatus.

For over 27 years, Shannon has been creating groundbreaking choreographies of personal, political and cultural significance by exploring the social constructions that surround disabled bodies, and developing movement techniques that formulate virtuosic new mobilities. He also has a noted history of examining and experimenting with urban art forms through translating them into theatrical contexts, inventing audience solutions to protect them in their naturally occurring street environs and mixing them with circus arts.

At MANCC, Shannon continued to explore a translation of movement using crutches into movement without crutches. Two School of Dance students, Ross Daniel (MFA 2017) and Ryan McMullen (MFA 2018), were selected to participate in this aspect of the residency as rehearsal assistants and understudy performers. Joined by collaborators in residence Cornelius Henke, projection artist, and Terence Valencheck, scenic designer, Shannon consulted with Assistant Professor of Art, Rob Duarte, as they continued to hone the design and fabrication of the wearable projection masks used on stage. Duarte also facilitated access to the FSU sculpture lab for this purpose. Additionally, Shannon met with Professors Wen Li and Pradeep Bhide of FSU’s department of neuroscience as research to support his notions around technology’s impact on society.

The residency culminated in an informal work-in-progress showing, which was attended by students and faculty of FSU’s dance and visual art departments, as well as members of the Tallahassee community.

Touch Update premiered at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in Pittsburgh, PA in Fall 2018.

This residency was funded, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts.

  • Bill Shannon using wearable projection technology
  • Ron Chunn & Teena Custer rehearse with projection masks
  • Staycee Pearl performing with video installation sculpture
  • Staycee Pearl
  • Ron Chunn performs during a work-in-progress showing of <i>Touch Update</i>
  • Ron Chunn & Teena Custer
  • Ron Chunn & Teena Custer
  • Ross Daniel,Teena Custer & Ron Chunn perform during work-in-progress showing
  • Teena Custer, Ron Chunn & Ross Daniel
  • Bill Shannon constructing plastic projection mask
  • Ron Chunn, Teena Custer & Staycee Pearl rehearse for <i>Touch Update</i>
  • Ron Chunn, Bill Shannon and Teena Custer
  • Bill Shannon
  • Cubist-inspired wearable video mask
  • video mask
  • Cast and collaborators of <i>Touch Update</i>
  • Bill Shannon meeting with Professor Pradeep Bhide of FSU’s department of neuroscience
  • Bill Shannon in conversation with Professor Wen Li of FSU's department of neuroscience

Collaborators in Residence: Ron Chunn Jr., Teena Marie Custer and Staycee R. Pearl [Performers}, Cornelius Henke III [Projection Designer], Terry Valencheck [Video and Production Technician]. Slideshow photos by Chris Cameron 

Featured Artist

Faye Driscoll

February 22 - 24
Carolina Performing
Arts, UNC Chapel Hill


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