Forbidden Identity

Well done Billy Read !
Dance for D/Deaf & Disabled People, Inclusive or Integrated Dance Artistic Commission
Dance Hub Birmingham – Amplifying and connecting dance in Birmingham and beyond

Artist: Billy Read


Billy Read is a profoundly Deaf dance artist, he will collaborate with Andrey Dragunov 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. With support from funders & partners, Billy is making a trilogy of dance with international Deaf collaborators that are set in a dystopian future where sign language is banned; it’s a metaphor for surveillance in the digital world. “Forbidden Identity”, will complete the Trilogy, tour and appeal to young audiences. The project has the full support of Birmingham Hippodrome.


Billy Read is a profoundly Deaf dance artist; with something to say about inequality, privacy & human rights. Two R&D’s have transformed Billy Read’s practice from Deaf street dancer to dance-theatre maker. Billy is devising a Trilogy of dance set in a Dystopian Future where sign language is banned. It’s a metaphor for surveillance in the digital world. The first part is “Somebody’s Watching Me” funded by Unlimited International. The second part “Sign Criminal” funded by Arts Council England. Billy now invites Birmingham Dance Hub to Commission “Forbidden Identity”, to complete the Trilogy. Billy proposes to continue with his track record of International collaboration and work with Andrey Dragunov 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.

Billy will mix Hip hop street dance with Tutting. Billy’s narrative will appeal to young people. Set in a dystopian future, where social justice has gone and tyranny prevails; deaf people/sign language users are under surveillance, unable to ‘whisper’ the two protagonists Billy Read and Andrey Dragunov use their dance and Tutting skills to create a visual vocabulary about friendship, describing their shared experience of oppression to lead a rebellion amongst young deaf street dancers.

The vulnerability of the heroes Andrey Dragunov & Billy Read is one of the typical features of the sub-genre of bleak dystopian future, in ‘Forbidden Identity’ our heroes are Deaf; and in the context of the story, Deaf people will be empowered, shifting negative perceptions of deafness and non-verbal people, through the high quality and energy of the dance and the story.

Billy is currently applying to Arts Council England with the partners and interest that he established with the highly successful “Sign Criminal”. Billy proposal to Arts Council England is to work with young deaf people on a participatory dance project. The aim is that they have the opportunity to devise dance work to be included in Billy Read’s Trilogy and play the part of the young deaf street dancers in Forbidden Identity. Billy wants to make the performance of the Trilogy agile so it can be performed in Schools and centres with little technical support and with Live musician and sound track. Billy’s vision is to give young people the opportunity to make dance work for his story about a dystopian future.

Billy want to share his artform, that blends visual communication with dance. In ‘Sign Criminal” he describes visually the experiences of young deaf people really well. Young deaf people have expressed in feedback that they have empathise with Billy’s story and want to use dance to tell their own story about the frustrations of communication breakdown and the privilege of having a secret language. Billy’s blending of visual communication, movement and dance was influenced by “Tutting”. This commission will be a unique professional development opportunity for Billy Read. The collaboration with Tutting expert Andrey Dragunov will transform Billy’s dance practice increasing his non-verbal storytelling skills, and take them to a new artistic level. Billy Read & Andrey Dragunov aim to create a highly accessible performance. It will resonate with audiences who are non-verbal and experience communication difficulties. All audiences will be uplifted by Billy Read & Andrey Dragunov creative work.

If his application to Arts Council England successful Billy Read will also employ an audio describer & take the commissioned performance “Forbidden Identity” to:
1) Birmingham Hippodrome (B-side Festival & Braidwood School & Deaf World)
2) Derby Theatre & Royal Derby School for deaf
3) Cast Doncaster & The Point Deaf Youth Group,
4) Frontline Dance Festival Stoke

password to watch video watching


In 2018, Billy Read collaborated with Hip Hop dancers Ariel Fung and Chris Fonseca. 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.

Two R & D’s have transformed Billy Read’s practice from Deaf street dancer to dance-theatre maker. In 2017 Somebody’s Watching Me, he described a world that had entered an age of total surveillance and tyranny 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 implant 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.

In 2018  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’s  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 or 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 generations 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.”

Forbidden Identity will awaken the learning of the two preceding R & D’s. Billy will lead a highly developed creative and producing team to make a Trilogy.

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

Andrey Dragunov

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.

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.

Promotion for Sign Criminal 2018