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Flash Review 2, 12-11: Different-Abled
Shannon Leans on Samaritans

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2000 Maura Nguyen Donohue

Bill Shannon, a.k.a. Crutchmaster, is a challenge. He challenges the modern dance concert stage in Saturday night's performance of "Old Rain," seen at P.S. 122's second floor theater, and challenges our notions of good Samaritans a little later Saturday night, now downstairs, in his "point and click" video presentation "Regarding the Fall." He is a provocateur, and I happily admit I have been provoked into a heavy bout of thinkin.'

It's a delight to again witness Shannon gliding across the stage, having first seen him at an improvisation concert a few years ago. The wings of his custom-designed crutches allow him to slow time and suspend motion midstream. Though "Old Rain" reveals a great amount of personal pain, Shannon still gives us bipeds, at least primarily bipeds, air time to envy. His hips are unable to support his torso due to a rare disease, but his legs work. Paired with the strength of his upper body and NoriCat's rounded-edge crutches, he's got the speed and grace of a gazelle.

The scope of his artistic expression also includes spoken word, drawings, video and digital art. "Old Rain" included a mix of performers, most notably Terry Carr "Cebout," who very adeptly showed how much movement can take place when you're dancing on your hands; the smooth floor work of Fernando Barreto "Reveal"; and Yazoshiro "Ishiroc" Ishi's fancy footwork. Shannon's slow, crumpled solo, set to the sound of rain and DJ Richie D. Tempo's evocative live mixing, expressed intense pain and struggle. The contortions of face and body as he makes his way out of his raincoat resembled a Butoh scene. "Old Rain" is full of dark mystery, seductive bass riffs, the lulling sound of rain and images of resurrection before its final celebration of movement and Shannon's eventual collapse to the ground.

The dancing is exciting, but there was more than one occasion where I was just waiting for something to happen. I've witnessed this before when street performers bring their work to the concert stage. In a theater, watching a couple guys throw down a couple moves in between lots of half-hearted walking around each other doesn't work. That pace works when you're just jamming, but within the context of a modern dance concert it becomes dead space. However, when "Old Rain" is moving, it is cooking.

Shannon serves as an excellent example for thinking outside the box and that is meant in the most unsentimental, none-life-gives-you-lemons-you-make-lemonade, way. He is the perfect embodiment of the politically correct term I was force fed in college: Bill Shannon is exactly "differently-abled." Earlier this fall I watched a young boy perform on crutches with Everett Dance Theater. He'd broken his leg a few weeks before the show and had been told he wouldn't be able to perform. But he'd recently worked with Shannon and thanks to that example wouldn't let himself be dis-abled. Which brings me to "Regarding the Fall." Though it was extremely humorous, I left with the sense of anger. Not the kind of anger we'd associate with a violent rage but rather that long-term companion familiar to anyone who has been marked by society for failure. Removing the specifics of some of the interactions and the visuals, I recognized Shannon's reflections and complaints as similar to many shared by members of other marginalized communities, i.e. women and people of color. Maybe it's just me.... Maybe the "able-bodied" white guys in the audience think he is a mean, whiny brat who belittles the kindness of strangers and should be thankful for what help he gets. But I found Shannon's well-spoken and well-thought observations on the interpersonal and sociological aspects of good samaritanism to further affirm something I already believe. There is no such thing as an unselfish act. Remember, gratitude is a debt.

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