Creative Outlet: A Conversation with Shannon Yu
Sha Creative Outlet at Triskelion Split Bill
December 3, 2021
Performed by Shannon Yu and Sarah Zucchero
Soundtrack by Arabelle Luke aka Airloom Beats
In an effort to capture the inner workings of her piece, I caught up with Shannon Yu post-show. Here is an abridged version of our conversation, interspersed with my impressions of the piece.
Paper. A tongue? A face? Hands, elbows, emerging body parts. Two bodies. Questions. Who are they to each other? Will they ever come out from behind the semi-translucent wall? Conceal and reveal. Discovery. Peekaboo, peep show, peeling back wrapping paper; pulling the curtain open in a stranger’s house to see a familiar smile.
DA: Tell me about your process. Where did you begin?
SY: When Sara and I were on a road trip, I saw this vision- tearing paper and showing someone’s mouth. That’s basically the whole idea.
DA: Your choreography is so precise and musical. What’s the relationship between the music and the movement for you?
SY:[After the vision] I had the idea that I wanted to make something with Arabelle, the beatboxer- I gave her two songs and asked her to sample them. She created tracks of elements she heard and pieced them together.
DA: The music really completed the piece for me- the way she used her voice to abstract the sounds paralleled what you and Sarah were doing with the paper- maybe abstracting your relationship to each other, abstracting your bodies, revealing these parts that were mysterious- like, are those elbows? Are they tits? What’s happening? Considering this, how did you generate the movement?
SY: Uh, a lot of it is from the music. For me, especially coming from street dancing, I can hear what’s in the music and react. I wanna hit these sounds to do this and that. I imagine a beat for myself- I can’t go with nothing. I have to give myself a beat. Or something to work with- those are the things happening in my mind. It keeps me sane and creative.
DA: So, about the music that you’ve had custom built— Is that too easy? Do you let Arabelle surprise you with those sounds?
SY: I gave her two songs and said, this is the feeling I want– she has a loop station and she recorded a couple of elements. Then, I told her how I wanted it assembled. I already had an idea of what I wanted.
DA: The sounds Arabelle made are sonic elements I’ve heard, but distorted, mixed up, imaginary. And the movements were familiar, but also fragmented and reassembled in new ways. The paper had a similar effect in shaping the space. How did you engineer the paper you used? Why paper?
SY: Through Triskelion and a City Artist Grant, I was fortunate enough to connect with Materials for the Arts- I picked several pieces of paper and I pieced them together. I had to do a couple of test runs. I wanted to rip a line- I used string and paper and a block of tape that made it stay in the lane.
DA: When the paper was back-lit, I saw how it was constructed. As if revealing the inner structures of the relationship or something-
SY: That was part of the idea! You see the connections.
Object permanence. Are they still there? Hidden twin. Shadow self. Separation via impression: what do you get when you reveal things strategically, over time? Some assembly required. Solving the mystery of a face through small pieces in specific places. Holding someone at arms’ length. Macro/micro. Details. Details.
DA: Ok, so the piece started out with your vision- then you kept piecing it together- it lived at Triskelion in this way, but where else do you see it? Or, what’s happening with it now?
SY: I do want to keep going with it- I see projections, I see the paper moving even more-
DA: Yeah, what are your dreams?
SY: I want to do it at the Abrons experimental theater- in the black box. I could have the paper be even taller, could add colors to it- I could also have the paper move in different ways with projection. The next step for myself is to draw and create some animation. I do want to keep building on it- I can see it being even more than it is right now. I’ve never made a full-length piece here or a full-length piece with two people, but I see the potential.
DA: It’s really rich. There’s a lot of imagery that slaps you in the face with its weirdness-
SY: That’s exactly why I want to do it!
DA: As you’re exploring those possibilities, what thematic material comes up for you?
SY: Everything- being, nonbeing- is connected. There are strings between us and they’re constantly morphing. Whatever I do will change the strings between us. When I first had that idea, I was on the subway. If one person turns their head or walks in- the connections between the individuals shift. Between us, between a lot of things, there’s a connection that happens. In the piece, there’s another reveal, another connection. Then there’s me and Sarah’s connection- and the connection to the audience. What happens when we get super close to you guys? What happens when we’re both behind the paper?
DA: In this version of the piece, I watched the two of you contend with those connections. In later versions of the piece, do you want a more explicit connection with the audience in your explorations with the paper and with each other?
SY: Maybe? See, when performers say audience interaction involves the audience actually doing something, we forget we’re forming a connection with the audience. I know the audience is, to some level, moving with us- their eyes are moving with us. Do I want to ask the audience to stand up and do something? I don’t know.
DA: How visible do you actually want the audience connection to be? It’s pretty subtle- we’re influencing your choices by the way we look at you-
SY: And the way you guys are laughing- what is the audience reacting to? The audience is influencing us. You can feel the energy from the audience. Otherwise, we would just do video performances…
DA: Yeah, you can’t really perform without an audience, so it’s inherently interactive.
SY: Do I have to walk into the audience to make the piece interactive? Does it really make so much of a difference?
DA: The way you handle that dynamic depends on your vision, then, and what our expectations are, how much we notice. With this piece, you’re already considering what something becomes when you only see a little bit of it, when you see all of it- when you see part of it and then part of it again. What are we noticing versus what could we be noticing?
SY: Good questions. Like what conditions allow the audience to notice more stuff or be able to react a certain way when I do something.
Hands twitch like turtles, contract like hedgehogs, roll and splay like starfish. Other worlds, if you look closely. The scale shifts again and the bodies are enormous, shadows thrown on the paper in rainbow hues. A goofy chase scene in a spy movie or two super heroes on the horizon. Larger than life.
DA: Do you like it when the audience laughs? Like, do you find it funny? Or what are points that you find funny? I laughed so hard when you and Sarah stuck your hands beneath the paper because they were suddenly unrecognizable as hands- they became little creatures!
SY: I don’t like to make my pieces too serious. I choreograph with a certain kind of humor. I’m not going to stop the audience from laughing- I have no idea why it seems funny but it just is, and I don’t mind that. It wasn’t meant to be a serious piece.
DA: The work followed a sort of dream logic: why is it funny? We don’t know, but we’re just going along with the impulse to see what else is uncovered if we laugh at it.
The figures slide out the other side and they’re human again, just two people watching the paper wall between them collapse. They’re done with facades, with false appearances and halfway attempts at knowing each other or showing the audience who they are. Time to live here now, together.