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Touch Update

Bill Shannon

“Combines a hip club sensibility with a balance-defying movement style that is all his own.”
—New York Times

Touch Update combines movement, wearable projection technology and video installation to explore the significant and often subtle implications of physical human contact in the digital era. 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 masks and manipulates our lived experience.

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 display the performers’ pre-recorded and scripted faces, as real emotions are expressed beneath—digital identities overlaid on “real” life. Embedded in 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 and practices, and translating them into theaterical contexts. 

This new work, Touch Update, carries forward his belief that authentic forms of disabled dance emerge from the disabled individual who mines the physical details of their own lives to create dances that reflect that singular lived experience. Positioning his body of work as an “outsider artist,” he continues to use the “disabled” body to create very specific movement patterns that can then be set on able bodied performers; this work stands in contrast to the historically dominant vocabularies of the abled-bodied being adapted for the disabled, trained or untrained performer. 

Bill Shannon’s Web Site

People Magazine Profile

April 2017
Residency at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography

May 2018
World premiere at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater 

Made possible with support from the Heinz Endowments, and the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Created with the support of a developmental residency at The Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida State University, and through Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s Penn Avenue Creative artist-in-residence program.

Staycee R. Pearl received her initial dance training at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. She served as artistic director of Xpressions Contemporary Dance Company in Pittsburgh for six years, premiering numerous choreographic works and performing choreography by celebrated artists including Rennie Harris, Robert Battle, and Kyle Abraham. She is responsible for the choreography in Nathan Davis’ jazz-opera, Just Above My Head, Carmen Jones, and Lost in the Stars, all of which were produced by the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh. Pearl is the director of Staycee Pearl Dance Projects, Founder of PearlArts Studios, and a recipient of the August Wilson Center Artistic Fellowship. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with honors in Studio Arts/Africana Studies.

Teena Marie Custer is a street dance artist and practitioner based in Pittsburgh. She is regular faculty at the American Dance Festival at Duke University, and Slippery Rock University in the Department of Dance where she teaches street dance styles, contemporary dance and dance composition. She battles and performs internationally with her all female street dance group, Venus Fly Trap and at ADF, she premiered the first hip hop repertory piece in the history of the festival. She performs with Bessie-nominated Ephrat Asherie Dance in New York. She earned a BA in Dance from Slippery Rock University and an MFA in Dance Performance from The Ohio State University.

Ron Stealth Chunn Jr. was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. Learned to B-boy in the Columbus scene, and was taught the Hip Hop culture at the infamous Bernies on High Street. He co-created the Street Symphony B-boy Crew in 2003 and started battling all across the globe. A Pittsburgh resident since 2010, Chunn is one of the original members of the Get Down Gang street dance crew, and has DJed at Shadow Lounge, Ava lounge, Belvedere’s, 720 Records and Penn Society.

Cornelius Henke III – of Projectile Objects is a video editor and projection mapping guru, VJ and contributing editor for projection-mapping.org.

Rafael Abreu-Canedo is recipient of Studio for Creative Inquiry Frank-Ratchye Award in 2014 and teaches video at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh.


Watch the trailer from the upcoming documentary “Crutchmaster”

Upcoming Residency

April 2017
Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography

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