DOC NYC 2020: “Crutch” Review – An Outstanding Portrait of a Genius Performer

Bill Shannon is an interdisciplinary performer who uses his disability to create art the likes of which you’ve never seen before. He’s a dancer, skater, genius artist and the subject of “Crutch”, a documentary crafted with over 20 years of intimate access.

Directors Sachi Cunningham and Chandler Evans (aka Vayabobo) don’t waste time presenting Shannon. During his childhood he was diagnosed with Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease, a rare hip condition that forced him to use crutches. In under 10 minutes, the documentary explains the obstacles his parents faced, the relationship with his brother and the bullying that he had to endure. This information is just a piece of a complex puzzle.

In the 1990s, Shannon started using his crutches to dance and skate and, most importantly, to express himself. “Hip is bad but hop is sensational”, said one critic about his unique performances. However, his art didn’t fit in with traditional styles, so he forged his own path and quickly invented an artistic language to explore the boundaries of his body and creativity. His dancing became political art.

He soon acquired fame and started working for Cirque du Soleil, but that led to the realization that critics, audiences and fellow performers were focused on the disability and not the art. He was being used just for representation, but he had so much more to offer. And this is where “Crutch” evolves into a fascinating study of art that asks about your own preconceptions.

The third act of “Crutch” masterfully explores the meaning of art. By using his disability as fuel for innovation, Shannon pushed his art to new heights. His street art became an exercise on observation. How do people react to a disability? What are their prejudices? What schemes are in their heads when watching a disabled person? What does a disabled person encounter day to day?

Image courtesy of Thos Robinson

In order to expand into the mind of its subject, the documentary uses a collection of footage from Shannon’s visit to a summer camp for kids with Perthes disease. He sees part of himself in the children struggling with disability and opens up to the camera about the relationship with his family and the trials of growing up. 

If somehow you are not interested in exploring his creative process, the amount of footage of his performances is more than enough to keep your mouth agape. Seeing Shannon in action is marvelous.When skating, he looks like a giant bird gracefully gliding through the streets. His mobility is hypnotic and his hip hop dancing oozes creativity.

“Crutch” is an intimate portrait of an artist using his disability as a tool to dance, inspire, move and empower. Cunningham and Vayabobo skillfully detract from any sort of underdog narrative to make their documentary all about the art and the brilliant mind behind it.

“Crutch” had its World Premiere at DOC NYC 2020 and will have online screenings from November 11 to 19. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram for more coverage of the festival.

Featured image credit: Dave Fogler

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