CRUTCH shows Pittsburgh artist's rise from "angry skate punk" to "international hero" | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

CRUTCH shows Pittsburgh artist's rise from "angry skate punk" to "international hero"

Image courtesy of discovery+
Bill Shannon has built a career as a renowned dancer, despite using crutches due to a medical condition. Now CRUTCH, a new documentary streaming exclusively on discovery+, covers the Pittsburgh native's life and passion for dance.

Shannon is an interdisciplinary artist who was born with Legg-Calvé-Perthes, a degenerative hip condition that requires him to use crutches to get around. CRUTCH opens with Shannon going to a children’s camp for kids with the same condition.

The documentary follows Shannon from a young age as he begins to explore dance and skateboarding, turning to art to express himself. A synopsis says the film, which is directed by Sachi Cunningham and Chandler Evans, provides two decades of exclusive access and a "lifetime of archival footage" to depict Shannon’s "extraordinary journey through medical odyssey, his struggles with chronic pain, as well as the evolution of his crutch dancing and skating." It shows that as Shannon rises to become a world-renowned performance artist, he transforms from an "angry skate punk to an international hero."

Watch the trailer below:
The film is made up of home videos of Shannon and his family, as well as interviews and animated sequences. The animation was mostly used when showing what the illness does to Shannon's body, which was interesting to see. It is also used to illustrate “Good Samaritanism,” a term used to describe encounters Shannon has with people randomly apologizing to him on the street or inquiring about why he is on crutches, and the daily struggle of having to deal with it.

Although he was able to find a way to make art with the crutches, it wasn’t immediate, especially in his youth.

“They were like this kind of cage,” Shannon says in the documentary.

The artist's mother talks about how she was told Shannon would be in a special education class when he first started school, and she had to fight to get him into the mainstream classroom. This exclusion would last well after grade school, as the documentary shows.

“Everybody has crutches, some of them you can see, some of them are invisible,” says Shannon.

The documentary follows Shannon on his journey to discovering how to express himself through dance on his crutches, and how his life changed because of it. He went on to become a United States Artists Fellowship awardee, Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, and a Cirque du Soleil performer.

“Once you get that through your head, that your body is limited, but that dancing is in your mind, not in your body, then you are pretty much free as a dancer,” he says.

In the past, Shannon displayed his craft with projects like Stay Up, a 2015 production based on movement workshops he ran for adults with disabilities as part of a Kelly Strayhorn Theater residency. In 2018, he presented the world premiere of his 70-minute interdisciplinary work Touch Update at KST’s newMoves Contemporary Dance Festival. The performance, which was the first time Shannon did not dance in something he choreographed and directed, was described in a Pittsburgh City Paper story as mixing "dance, theater performance art, wearable projection technology and cubist-inspired video installation."

Audiences are shown other interesting parts of Bill’s life, such as when he was arrested as a teenager in Pittsburgh for skateboarding. Seeing Shannon's long-time commitment to his two loves despite various obstacles makes the film very captivating, and keeps viewers thoroughly invested throughout the whole runtime.

CRUTCH is now playing on

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