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An exciting, brand new project by Billy Read and his crew Def Motion, 'Cog In The Wheel' is Billy's newly-envisioned concept, which infuses dance with visual vernacular and poetry.
Commissioned by City Grants and produced by Deaf Explorer, Cog In The Wheel is based on the themes of factory labourers producing smartphones, exposing the dark, hidden secrets of modern-day slavery within these factories, and also addressing the dilemma facing d/Deaf people who rely heavily on modern smartphone technology for their access needs.

"By the assembly line I stood straight like iron, hands like flight,

How many days, how many nights,

Did I - just like that - standing fall asleep?"




Cog In The Wheel is the title of Billy's newly commissioned and ambitious project that began in May 2022.

Producers Deaf Explorer approached Billy to come up with a fresh new idea to submit to City Grants, who were awarding commissions to Midlands-based artists and organisations to celebrate the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

To meet the requirements of City Grants' rigorous criteria, the idea had to be completely novel and unheard of.

It needed to be fresh and exciting, relevant to issues facing society today, with ambitious plans to develop and evolve across art forms, and ultimately be accessed and enjoyed by large and diverse audiences.

Community events, such as workshops and collaborative performances with wide and diverse members of the community, became a key part of the project. School children and elderly folks, d/Deaf, hearing, and differently abled, will learn dance and VV whilst also having the opportunity to perform in the show alongside Billy and his team.


Relying on Billy's creativity, performance skills, awareness of injustice and personal journey as an artist, 'Cog In The Wheel' was born, initially as a group dance performance with an infusion of deeply moving poetry and visual vernacular, a form of Deaf poetry.​

The themes include factory labourers making smartphones, the never-ending 9-5 daily grind, robotic, repetitive, constant movements of individual workers, ie: a 'cog' in the system.

The inspiration for the idea was drawn from Billy's Deaf identity and newfound awareness of these human rights issues, whilst acknowledging how crucial smartphone technology has been in changing the lives of d/Deaf people for the better. Billy also found inspiration from his previous works 'Somebody's Watching Me' and 'Forbidden Identity', due to their themes of surveillance and freedom.

The Poetry

The poems of Chinese poet Xu Li Zhi forms a central and important role in the project, due to their powerfully dark and eye-opening verses based on the real-life experiences of the poet himself, who worked as a factory labourer.

Xu Li Zhi wrote these dark and depressing poems to express the pain and suffering of his experiences as a modern day slave labourer. In 2014 at the age of 24, Xu Li Zhi committed suicide by jumping to his death from a factory window.

Billy found these poems deeply moving and upsetting to read.


One of the key aims of this project is to incorporate the poems into the performances through visual vernacular, dance movement, and spoken word.


"The poems really open your eyes to the horror of modern-day slavery. Though beautifully-written, the poems were a cry for help that never came. It is absolutely important that Cog In The Wheel delivers the message from these poems to audiences so people become aware of what is happening out there, right now."


This project is currently ongoing, all activity and news can be seen on the blog page. Click the button below to follow the latest updates for Cog In The Wheel.

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