Every so often, regardless of its cinematic qualities, a short grabs me because of its sheer audacity of subject and movement. So when my good friend, producer and ocean activist Steve Reiss, with whom I frequently share views of and conversations about dance media, sent me several links – including David La Chappelle’s WAY over seen and over the top if not beautifully filmed short for Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” (which is way too burlesque for me to feature beyond this mention), and a nine-year-old, black & white and grainy short called Crutch – the latter popped out with a quiet roar.
Crutch follows its subject Bill Shannon, aka Crutch Master, who has bi-lateral hip deformity, as he stumbles, falls, and ultimately glides and dances through the streets of New York City on crutches. In the notes to the long form doc from which this short is extracted, both of which are Directed and Produced by Sachi Cunningham and Chandler Evans, Shannon is referred to as “an internationally renowned artist, break dancer and skate punk, who wields his crutches as tools of expression and weapons of provocation.”
And in it we hear him say that what he does is not really dance: “You can call it dance if you want to, but, I mean as a kid I wasn’t going around ‘I’m dancing right now’… You know, all I was doing was figuring out my way to get up the stairs without anybody seeing me and doing it in this very strange way… Technique, you know, style, nuance, you know all those things were falling into place but I wasn’t calling it that and I didn’t consider it that and I still don’t.”
In Crutch, we get a docu-style glimpse at Shannon’s mastery on crutches, and what he procures is a very individual and extremely idiosyncratic way of moving. Shannon refers to what he does as “relating to your environment as it comes to you on an improvisational, free style basis,” which is what I think we all do more or less in our own way either intentionally or not. With a fantastic score, “Inner City Boundaries” by Blackalicious, Crutch is an invitation for all of us to reconsider our physical navigations through the urban environment and our lives in general as dance. And of course it is a great testament to the power, perseverance, and indelibility of the human spirit.
*Part 5 of Poetry + Murder, My Dance with the Manson Women will be appear in next week’s ScreenDance Diaries.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Founder/Director of Dare to Dance in Public Film Festival, Sarah Elgart is a Los Angeles based choreographer and director working under the auspice of Sarah Elgart | Arrogant Elbow. Sarah creates original content for stage, screen, and site-specific venues. Her stage and site-works have been performed at alternative spaces including LAX Airport, The Skirball Center, Mark Taper Forum, Van Nuys Flyaway, The Bradbury Building, Jacob’s Pillow, INSITU Site-Specific Festival NY, and Loft Seven, where she created a rooftop work lit entirely by a hovering helicopter accompanied by Nels Cline (Wilco). Her work has been produced by venues including The Music Center, MASS MoCA, Dance Place, Los Angeles Theater Center, Mark Taper Forum and The International Women’s Theater Festival. In film Sarah has worked with noted directors including JJ Abrams, David Lynch, Catherine Hardwicke, and Anton Corbijn. Her own films include award-winning music videos, dance shorts, and an Emmy nominated PSA, and continue to be accepted into festivals internationally. In addition to teaching dance and film, Sarah writes a regular column, ScreenDance Diaries that focuses on the intersections of both genres internationally for online magazine Cultural Weekly. Sarah’s work has received support from organizations that include the Rockefeller Foundation, the NEA, City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, California Arts Council and more. She is an alumna of the Sundance Institute’s Dance Film Lab, a Fellow of AFI’s Directing Women’s Workshop, and a director member of the DGA.
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