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Bill Shannon, crutches and all, wows crowds in his riffing on hip-hop

Bill Shannon’s sold-out show, “Sketchy,” attracted a wildly diverse audience, definitely not your modern dance crowd, in its run February 17-19. Young people, music people, the ghetto fabulous and even staid dance critics targeted by the artist in his, at times, sardonic ramblings.

The Kitchen may have paid for their curatorial choice with bad press from The New York Times, but the show was clearly a huge hit with the public. A matinee was added to accommodate demand. How often does that happen?

Shannon introduced himself with a monologue explaining his condition, exclaiming he is not a faker nor does he want to be pitied. Still, as tough as he acts, there is vulnerability in his actions. His legs are not paralyzed. Rather, he has a hip disease that keeps him from stepping more then a few feet at a time. He uses crutches for extra support.

“What I do on a daily basis is not necessarily a struggle to get someplace, but a struggle to get people to leave me alone about it,” he explained.

Shannon, the Crutch Master, draws us into the world of hip-hop with moves that derive from the streets, the clubs and even music videos, although the latter is not his thing. He swings and cradles his specially made rounded crutches and uses skateboard-inspired moves to showcase his skills, talking the whole time, laying down the lexicon for his truly original movement invention. Aware that he has taken street dance out of its original context, he goes out of his way to explain it all, giving the audience a lecture on hip-hop dance evolution as soloists demonstrate classic styles and moves.

While the live, interactive elements of the production were enough to keep the responsive audience tuned in and turned on, the use of media in “Sketchy” was also immersive. In addition to a DJ at the back of the stage, there was a large screen projecting video being captured, mixed and filtered live. Moreover, like in a sporting event, trick moves are given an instant replay treatment. Rewound, slowed down and zoomed in on, the performer was able to identify on the screen where the failure occurred, and try again.

The second half of the performance was a parody of itself. Dressed up in matching black and white Ali. G-type uniforms, Bill Shannon and the Step Fenz grooved away, creating the effect of a cheaply done music video, which is a way of showing how hip-hop has downgraded itself and how many hip-hop stars aren’t staying true to their roots.

Bill Shannon is someone you know will always stay true to his roots and never forget the streets that he came from. The circle the charismatic cast formed at the end was a testament to that—and the only ending imaginable.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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