Sunday, October 03, 2004

Fringe Festival: Bill Shannon - Spatial Theory

To describe Bill Shannon as a ‘unique talent’ would be like describing Robin Williams as ‘kinda funny’ or William Shakespeare as a ‘decent writer’. Shannon is brilliant, and he leaves his audience gasping for more, desperate not only for his physical performance, but also for his refreshing outlook on life.

Since the age of five, Shannon has been on crutches. Rather than let this hinder his mobility, Shannon has used it to his advantage and developed a breakdancing technique involving the crutches. Such is his skill and dexterity that the usually-euphemistic term ‘differently-abled’ is in fact genuine, and probably an understatement – Shannon appears to be more agile and mobile than his crutchless peers.

It's the CrutchMaster!


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1 comment:

-A. said...

Shannon’s show as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival is an adaptation of a street-theatre performance he has taken around the world. It makes full use of the cavernous space in the main chamber of the North Melbourne Town Hall, with Shannon moving effortlessly across the large space with enough enthusiasm and energy for the audience to forget the limitations of viewing dance in a venue not naturally suited to it.

Shannon’s background as a street-performer comes to the fore when he spends some time before, during and after his choreographed routines to chat casually with the audience. Shannon has an infectious, lovable style that he uses in sharing a glimpse of his background and the development of his dance technique. He works hard to deconstruct the complex crutched dance moves that he slickly undertakes, breaking each one down to its composite parts and showing how it is done.

As a middle interlude between dances, Shannon works with a projector to stage what must be one of the world's most interesting slide nights. Some of his successful (and not so successful) tricks in urban environments are shared with a keen audience. He also takes some time to look at the social meaning and public responses to disability, with candid footage of an unknowing public responding to Shannon’s disability. Particularly fun is the elderly lady who is desperate to help Shannon climb the stairs, in spite of his obvious ability to do the task on his own, leading to the perverse situation of Shannon “helping her believe she’s helping me”. There is a slight pang of awkwardness felt by an able-bodied audience as they watch – sure, the responses of the kind-but-useless strangers are unhelpful, but wouldn’t we do the same if we were in their position? And shouldn’t we praise those who help rather than those who walk idly by? In Shannon’s experience, public indifference to his ‘plight’ is the ideal response.

Shannon displays a passionate, blood-pumping dance performance that mixes the brisk, sudden movement required to fill the space with emotional subtlety as the mood requires. The stares of anguish at moments of heightened tension during the three dance acts works to great effect, and takes the audience on an emotional journey with the performer. Such is the confidence of the movement that it appears that the crutches and skateboard used by Shannon are an extension of his body, under such close control that they appear more anatomical than mechanical. On the odd occasion where Shannon loses control of his new-found body parts, it is handled with warmth and humour, with the occasional bout of mock-self-pity.

The musical backbeat to Shannon’s powerhouse performance is provided by DJ Richie Tempo, who performs the task admirably. The pumping beats from Tempo’s turntable are not at all suited to the civilities of a theatrical space and there is difficultly generating the sort of rapturous enthusiasm that Tempo might experience performing for another audience in another context. Scratched record hip-hop challenges the listener to respond physically and emphatically, a result that is unfortunately not possible. Still, Tempo’s role is the play second fiddle (well, second turntable, perhaps) to Shannon, and it is a role he performs well.

In performing as part of the festival, Shannon seems to have found his audience. It would be tempting to treat him as a ‘niche’ act, appealing only to those with an interest in dance, hip-hop or disability, but this would be to deny many others the brilliance of Shannon’s act. Shannon deserves a large, and no doubt appreciative, audience for a show that moves beyond the realms of dance and instead offers and entire world-view. The title of the show, Spatial Theory, captures this intention perfectly.