Shannon Yu Finds Movement Across Disciplines

By Nadia Halim
February 20, 2024
Profiles

For multi-disciplinary artist Shannon Yu (sha/shas), movement can be found in many mediums: photography, video projections, textiles, the body. Shas rehearsal space often resembles a visual art gallery, an atelier, and a recording studio all at once. While many elements are necessary to complete shas vision, movement remains the main driving force. “I see video as movement, music as movement,” said Yu. “There’s no hierarchy where dance is at the top. Everything is connected.”

As a dancer and choreographer, Yu practices contemporary floorwork, breaking, hip-hop, and Wing Tsun martial arts. These lineages appear through shas work in a fluid manner, whether in strict adherence to form or a layering of aesthetics. A deep knowledge of disparate codified techniques becomes shas key tool for devising.

I joined Yu recently at Triskelion Arts’s black box theater, where shas latest work, “Wild Future 野未來,” will premiere from February 29 through March 2. The title keys the audience into a central theme for the evening: time as expandable, yet dependent on the current moment. While our recollection of the past can be selectively edited, the future remains uncontrollable and untamed. Shas dance works intentionally blur the lines between memory and imagination.

Inside the intimate venue, intersecting lines of string held together by a delicate system of pulleys and hooks create a porous web above the stage. This installation is the set of shas opening piece, “\ \ \”, a meditation on connection and the ties that bind us. Two dancers, Kimiko Tanabe and Corrine Lohner, are physically connected by a four-foot-long string tied around their left wrists.

The dance that follows is an act of negotiation. The string restricts, guides, and frames the duo, becoming a third entity in their duet. A sparse score by musician Nathan Repasz on a snare drum keeps time like a distorted clock. Movement motifs of shape-making freezes and continuous tracing emerge in the space between points of connection. Compromise is often achieved, but interspersed are moments of tension and play between the dancers.

While “\ \ \” centers on our entanglement with others, the latter half of the performance explores the relationship within the self. Yu takes to the stage in “Dis-placement 誤置,” a solo work on what sha calls the “cross-cultural imprints of identity.” For Yu, these imprints include Taiwanese heritage, Hip-Hop, and the cosmos.

Yu’s solo builds upon investigations for an earlier work, “Shapeshifter” (2023), a more playful take on the shared immigrant experience of acclimating to different contexts. Yet, in “Dis-placement 誤置,” the competing selves turn the gaze inward, questioning who the “true self” is when home can be found in multiple places.

Born and raised in Taiwan and now working as a Brooklyn-based artist, sha recognized a lingering feeling. “When I returned to Taiwan for the first time in four years, I realized that part of my mind was not here,” sha remarked. “There was some part of me that was displaced.”

With a dissonant score by experimental musician Qiujiang Levi Lu/卢秋江, whose custom feedback-driven electronic instruments amplify sound and voice, Yu moves through precise, bound shapes, created through minute turns of the hand that grow in intensity to a full-bodied experience. “My body and mind shift through versions of me,” sha said. “Placement is context; yet when placement is intermingled with sentiments, context becomes knotty.”

For Yu, context is also embedded in community. Last year, Asian American Arts Alliance named sha the 2023 recipient of the Jadin Wong Fellowship, an award bestowed upon an Asian American dance artist whose work shows outstanding promise and influence. “It is an honor. And I feel a responsibility to continue being an influence in the spaces I inhabit: the floorwork community, queer community, hip-hop, and Wing Tsun,” said Yu. “I believe culture is driven by those who contribute and push it forward.”

When asked about a future beyond “Wild Future 野未來,” Yu, after a moment of reflection, deferred to the past to inform the way forward. Sha mused that, after a decade of creating, what has been consistent is how personal shas work is. “The visuals and intuitions that come to me and the decision-making is my identity,” said Yu.

—Nadia Halim is a dancer, writer, and arts marketing manager based in New York City. She currently performs with cullen + them, dishman + co. choreography, Parijat Desai, and Colleen Thomas Dance, among others.

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