Forbidden Identity

Artistic Commissions 

Dance Hub Birmingham – Amplifying and connecting dance in Birmingham and beyond

Artist: Billy Read

Forbidden Identity

Billy And Ariel in Digbeth with the graffiti
Photo credit Graeme Braidwood

Billy Read is a profoundly Deaf street dancer; with something to say about inequality, privacy & human rights. With support of Birmingham Hippodrome, he lead a creative team, collaborating with musicians & Hip Hop dancers Ariel Fung and Chris Fonseca and mix Andrey Dragunov Tutting with Nathan Marsh’ New Hip Hop styles. Together they take a story that propels a deaf and hearing family into a dystopian future, raising the physical and emotional stakes by showing the disintegration of a family unit and deaf young people forming a gang to lead a rebellion challenging a dystopian ban on sign language.

Project has full support of Birmingham Hippodrome, when funded will tour to venues, including Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester, Derby Theatre and Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, & The Point DARTS Doncaster.

Deaf Dancers

Ariel Fung

Hong Kong-based Ariel Fung.  Billy wants to collaborate with Ariel because she brings an authentic cultural viewpoint. Living amid the tension between Hong Kong’s glittering commerce and China’s authoritarianism, she can naturally contribute to a fictional story about a dystopia. Billy’s viewpoint reflects the open access to information we are accustomed to in the West. Ariel’s however, is based on life living in a small state overshadowed by an enormous neighbouring superpower state that threatens to strip away sovereignty and bring it under total control; for example, monitoring smartphone communication, to dissuade citizen’s speaking out against authority. Billy Read met Ariel after winning an Arts Council funded travel award to go to Hong Kong and dance with Fun Forrest, a Deaf street dance company.

Chris Fonseca

Chris Fonseca is a deaf dancer and dance teacher. He has performed internationally and recently featured in Smirnoff’s advert – We’re Open.

He fell in love with dancing at a young age, and now runs workshops in South London teaching both deaf and hearing people to dance, focusing on lyrical hip hop. He’s also a freelance dancer, appearing in music videos, adverts and more. He dances by feeling the beat through vibrations in the floor, and interprets and then incorporates the lyrics into his dance moves.


Two R & D’s have transformed Billy Read’s practice from Deaf street dancer to dance-theatre maker. In his Unlimited International R & D in 2017 “Somebodies Watching Me”, he live streamed the R & D performance as he described a world that had entered an age of total surveillance and tyranny that had divided the Deaf. The once lively deaf communities were no more, stripped of their rights, that activists had fought so hard for, except for those Deaf people who could speak and be controlled using impact technology. All the Deaf people who failed the oral examination and who used sign language were a threat to the new world order and sent to work down in the mines.  Jo Carr, Theatre Programmer at mac said of “Somebody’s Watching Me” that there were two shows emerging out of the R&D and both really strong. 

password to watch video watching

In 2018 his Arts Council England funded R & D,  “Sign Criminal had great appeal to Deaf children & young Deaf people. Billy blended sign language, Tutting (finger dancing),  & Hip Hop street dance.  He was mentored by Nathan Marsh, to strengthen Billy’s choreography.  Billy collaborated with his Deaf dance crew Ariel Fung from Hong Kong and Chris Fonseca from London to devise a new style of Hip Hop that tells stories about the impact of communication difficulties at home by young Deaf people and about the joy of been together and sharing a visual language.  Rob Punton, Disability poet and consultant said, “I don’t know sign language but I understood every moment of the performance. It was powerful and emotional.” Deaf peer Rinkoo Barpaga says, “Mix of storytelling and dancing are really interesting, I could see the audiences really enjoy it. This is a new generation of Deaf people who were interested in music” Sonny Nwachukwu, Trainee Producer Unlimited says, “I truly believe that the dance show appealed to young Deaf people, I looked around and saw the smiles, the interest and the eagerness from everyone but especially the youngen’s. It actually got me really emotional at one stage as I saw the inspiration.” 
In 2019/20 “Forbidden Identity” will awaken the learning of the two preceding R & D’s. Billy will lead the artistic process by starting with collaborators on a 1 – 1 basis and gradually building up the team over the period of production and then rehearsal.  Billy will take the form of the work to a new level, mixing Hip hop with Tutting, Digital video with dronesdevising dance pieces for roving surveillance cameras, Pulsating soundscape with Live Percussion. Billy will lead a highly developed creative and producing team to make a full-length Hip-Hop show for all audiences. 

Kerry Drewery

To give greater narrative and stimulation for the creative dance ensemble Billy will collaborate with Young People’s Author Kerry Drewery, who he met on his 2017 R & D. The aim is to appeal to young audiences by bringing the subgenre of young adult dystopian literature to dance and using Hip-hop’s inclusivity to form a Deaf and hearing dance crew. A starting point to drive the story of Forbidden Identity and collaborate with Hong Kong based Ariel Fung. Billy states, “I recently watched a documentary that said the Chinese government aims to have every mobile-phone user signed up to a ‘social-rating’ system within a decade. Basically everyone will have their movements tracked, and everything they say in messages or comments on social media will be monitored. Those who speak out against authority will have points taken off their social-rating on a universal system, those people with low ratings will be stripped of certain freedoms such as traveling, borrowing money, seeking jobs, buying cars for example.” Living in a state of paranoia and under constant surveillance, controlled by oppressive ruling regimes and having a lack of freedom are aspects of life that all teenagers deal with on a daily basis. This feeling of oppression will be compounded in the HipHop dance story by creating a feeling of ‘them and us,’ a Deaf street dance crew as the dissenting group who oppose this infiltration, by the highest levels of government, into their lives. As the ruling party seek to track the whole of society, the most marginalised group of people in that community form a faction – an element essential to the dystopian subgenre. Furthermore, the vulnerability of the heroes is one of the typical features of the sub-genre. In ‘Forbidden Identity’ our heroes are Deaf; and in the context of the story, Deaf people will be empowered, shifting negative perceptions of deafness, through the high quality and energy of the street dance and the story.  

Matty Gurney

In “Forbidden Identity” author Kerry Drewery will devise a story that takes Billy’s “Sign Criminal” about tyranny and oppression in the family and expands the bleak dystopian future of “Somebodies Watching me” where Sign language is banned and the friendship of young Deaf people leads a rebellion.  Dance Dramaturge will be stimulated by the insightful Matty Gurney, a Deaf theatre maker and Visual Vernacular expert – a theatrical art form of physical expression, story-telling with strong sense of body movements, iconic signs, gestures, facial expressions.

Nathan Marsh | Nao Masada | ArIEl Fung | Billy Read

Billy Read will collaborate with Birmingham based Hip-hop choreographer Nathan Marsh, and music will be by composer/ sound designer Chris Bartholomew and percussionist/Taiko Drummer Nau Masada. The street dance ensemble of Chris Fonseca and Ariel Fung will network with Deaf street Dancers from around the world and audition when required Hip Hop dancers based in the West Midlands Region.

Billy Read Biography

In 2011 Billy Read founded the Deaf dance crew Def Motion. By 2013 the company was dancing at CLIN D’OEIL The European Deaf Arts Festival in Reims, France. In 2014 Billy Read began to work with Opera Circus and was a collaborating artist for 4 years on “The Complete Freedom of Truth” project, where he taught dance and created performances with young people from 7 European countries.

Billy’s interest in making dance shows that deal with oppression and appeal to young audiences is informed by this work. In September 2015, he made a new street dance show involving 30 people for the Birmingham Weekender Festival. Billy has a strong network of International Deaf Promotors and regularly works abroad, and collaborates with Deaf dancers. In the same year, he made new work with Antoine Hunter of Urban Jazz Company in the USA and presented new work at The Bay Area Deaf Dance Festival. In recognition of the disparity of opportunity for Deaf people in the mainstream, he supports emerging Deaf dancers here in Uk and abroad. In 2016, Billy Read received Arts Council funding to collaborate with Giulia Marchetti who is based in Italy and is trained in a popular Indian classical dance style. The twenty-minute dance show was promoted to Deaf Indian and Pakistani audiences and young people. “Like Mirabai” used British Sign Language to tell a story and fused Indian dance with street dance. In 2017 Billy Read received an UNLIMITED International R&D award, that was produced by mac Birmingham and Deaf Explorer. It was a collaboration with Hong Kong-based Street Dancer Ariel Fung.  In 2018 Billy Read was Supported by Unlimited to apply for another R & D from Arts Council England. In late 2018 he completed Sign Criminal R & D and performed to over 150 Deaf people and presented work to young Deaf people and children.

Creative Team

Nathan Marsh
Hip Hop Dance choreographer 
Nathan Marsh is a Hip-Hop choreographer based In Birmingham. Nathan Marsh will support Billy Read to devise new choreography.

Andrey Dragunov is one of the most advanced tutting artists in the world, he’s also deaf. He has perfected the art of “finger tutting”, which involves the movement of fingers to create shapes in a unique form of dance, having started when he was 15. This visually stunning and impressive form of dance can be seen as an innovative way for Andrey, from St Petersburg, to get around his hearing problems.

Matty Gurney 
Dance Dramaturge
Matty is a Deaf Actor and Director. He got involved in theatre production when he first met with George Mann, Co Artistic Director Theatre Ad Infinitum at a workshop. They asked Matty to get involved in a project doing research and development on disability hate crime. Matty is key player in the critically acclaimed show “Light” giving the show a unique visual feature that Matty developed. Gurney contributed the use of a technique called Visual Vernacular, “a form of physical theatre developed by Deaf artists for Deaf and Hearing audiences.”

Nao Masuda Percussion and Access to Music
To be able to physically express music and rhythms more precisely and artistically for both aesthetic and practical reasons. For Deaf dancers to internalise and be aware of rhythms and beats when they do not feel them from external sources by connecting and bonding through rhythm training and developing physical cueing systems.

Chris Bartholomew
Composer and Sound Designer
Chris Bartholomew is a composer and sound designer based in South London. Focusing on devised work and new writing, Chris’s recent credits include East is East – Northern Stage, Contractions – Deafinately Theatre in ND2, Beweeped, Outcast – Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and Light and Bucket List with Theatre Ad Infinitum. As a composer, Chris has written for various ensembles with his blend of acoustic sound and electronics. He has been commissioned by the London Acapella Festival, Portsmouth Festivities and the London Mozart Players, to create works for concert hall, cathedral and helipad. Chris has recently joined the Hofesh Sheather Company as touring sound engineer.

Rinkoo Barpaga
Drone Operator and Film maker
Rinkoo has made several short films. His latest documentary is called ‘Double Discrimination’. It was broadcast on Film4 and worldwide.  Working with Technician Chris Cuthbert who Live streamed Somebodies Watching Me Rinkoo Barpaga will use his camera skills to stream performances, providing a unique surveillance online of the Hip-Hop performance, so audiences can watch “Forbidden Identity” online.


Feedback about Sign Criminal R & D

On Wednesday, 26 September Billy Read, Ariel Fung & Chris Fonseca presented Sign criminal

  1. Royal Derby school for Deaf
  2. Braidwood school
  3. BID services youth group
  4. An audience of Deaf and hearing people in Birmingham at Signing Tree, Ladywood

    All feedback forms ticked excellent

    Rob Punton, Disability poet and consultant said, “I don’t know sign language but I understood every moment of the performance. It was powerful and emotional.”

    Rinkoo Barpaga Chair of Deaf Explorer says, “I am very impressed. The story is definitely so unique. Mixed of storytelling and dancing are really interesting. Also, I could see the audiences really enjoy it. This is a new generations of Deaf people who were interesting in musical”

    Sonny Nwachukwu, Trainee Producer at Unlimited says, “I truly believe that the dance show appealed to young Deaf people, I looked around and saw the smiles, the interest and the eagerness from everyone but especially the youngen’s. It actually got me really emotional at one stage as I saw the inspiration.”

    Comments about dance performance blending sign language and street dance

    • Very impressed
    • 3 performers worked really well together
    • Timing  was fantastic
    • Dancing was inspired
    • Love the ideas that they put together
    • Really impressive they did it in eight days
    • Facial expression and body movement really put trade the character and scenes fantastic
    • I loved the performance
    • I like the events so much I’ve enjoyed here
    • Love storyline plot characterisations
    • Very clear scene to scene
    • Movement expression very clear
    • I have very limited BSL knowledge and I understand it all
    • Brilliant use of sound and film to add to the storytelling atmosphere tension
    • Wonderful dancing and impact on children
    • I liked that you raised and explored some issues that our kids have all will face in the world. I think the integration of live music was cool and could be explored further
    • I like the storyline each episode is very relatable being a deaf person
    • Story was very clear
    • Could that be a more child-friendly simple story for schools – I fully understood that some children, especially in our school, had very limited life experiences
    • I would hundred percent want to watch the full show
    • The dances are fantastic
    • The first and third story was excellent and very moving
    • Relates to our students
    • Also some of the students are from deaf families so maybe consider that for full version
    • My favourite was the first scene very powerful
    • Like story and I love it
    • Yes, I love it yes I fully understand all of it
    • I like the beats
    • It was all good well done
    • It was really visual, I like it a lot,
    • Very enjoyable to watch
    • Thought it was for provoking, gave a great insight into Deaf  issues
    • True representation of family communication difficulties
    • Accessible creative innovative teenagers will love it, can’t wait to see more, parent seen – really powerful
    • Want to see more!
    • Great shows the importance of the family to understand between hearing and Deaf
    • I like the performance and looks like VV