Acclaimed dancer Bill Shannon and film essayist Roger Beebe screen their work. | Movie Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Acclaimed dancer Bill Shannon and film essayist Roger Beebe screen their work.

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For an introduction to performer and choreographer Bill Shannon, you could do worse than the music video "Work It Out." The piece opens on the image of a grandly columned courthouse. As Rjd2's trip-hop track strides onto the soundtrack, Shannon appears atop the stairs and makes his way down on his characteristic rocker-bottomed crutches.

First, Shannon flees a would-be Samaritan who wants to aid his descent. Reaching the paved plaza, dressed in a gray fedora, jacket and tie, he performs a brief, graceful dance, then begins circling the building, venturing into Brooklyn streets. Tailed by director Joey Garfield's effortlessly floating camera, Shannon commandeers a skateboard, does a mock header into a lamppost, and ends with a spidering climb up the monumental staircase he first descended. He's on his crutches all the while.

"Work It Out," which aired on MTV and is widely grokked on YouTube, is a highlight of the Pittsburgh-based, internationally known performer's program of videos by and about him screening at the next Film Kitchen (a City Paper-sponsored event). The Oct. 16 show will be Shannon's first scheduled public appearance in Pittsburgh since he moved back from New York, in 2006.

Shannon, who uses crutches because of a degenerative hip condition, came to performance art via breakdancing and skateboarding. He's performed and choreographed shows in the U.K., across Europe, in Russia and Mexico, as well as around the U.S.; his choreography was featured in Cirque du Soleil's production Varekai.

The videos he'll screen at Film Kitchen document not only Shannon's thrilling dance technique -- in which he achieves the illusion of weightlessness -- but also his sly deconstructions of social interaction from the perspective of a disabled person.

The videos include a preview excerpt of a work-in-progress feature-length documentary about Shannon (tentatively titled Crutch), by Saatchi Cunningham and Chandler Evans. Another video documents "Attempts," a video installation juxtaposing Shannon's failures and successes as he works on skateboard tricks. Other shorts document his street-skateboarding exploits and such performance pieces as "Peripheral Fluctuation" and "Moment in Passing," in which Shannon humorously analyzes how pedestrians react to a person on crutches.

Shannon, who'll attend the Oct. 16 screening, presented an interactive version of this 45-minute program at New York's prestigious IFC Center, on Sept. 6.

Appropriately enough, Roger Beebe is talking from the road, in this case, Troy, N.Y. Many of the Florida-based filmmaker's shorts are travel films, of a sort: visually adventurous essays on overlooked aspects of the American landscape.

One film explores the curious case of Morro Rock, a huge formation off the California coast and a favored postcard image. Beebe's unnarrated "(rock/hard place)" (2005) uses a split screen and flickering edits to explore how a huge power plant sitting right nearby is invariably cropped out of photos of the rock. "The Strip Mall Trilogy" is Beebe's acclaimed 2001 attempt to create (on Super 8 film) beauty from a much-maligned architectural form; 2006's "SAVE" is a contemplative study of a rusting and abandoned gas station.

All three of those films have screened internationally, and all three are on the program when the award-winning artist visits Film Kitchen on Oct. 16, with his traveling show titled New Maps of the New World. The tour of some three dozen Eastern U.S. venues, including New York's Anthology Film Archives, is a true road show: Beebe brings his own film and video projectors in case the venues aren't equipped.

Beebe will also show "Famous Irish Americans" -- which explains, among other mysteries of ethnic heritage, why Shaquille O'Neal is really Irish. His "One Nation Under Tommy," meanwhile, is a collaborative video inspired by the "telephone game." Beebe asked a writer to concoct a script based on a "super-cynically patriotic Tommy Hilfiger commercial," had someone shoot a film based on that script, and then added three more iterations. The 15-minute finished product, he says, tracks the "mutations."

Beebe, 35, is a University of Florida professor whose tour comes courtesy of his sabbatical. Like travel, his films are explorations that end up surprising even him. Shooting "(rock/hard place)," for instance, "I actually found the power plant more photogenic than the rock.

"I'm more interested in these things being kind of open, and allowing the world to be as complicated as it is," he says. "I don't want to say something definitive and simple."

Film Kitchen 8 p.m. Tue., Oct. 16. Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., N. Oakland. $4. 412-326-3342, x178 or www.filmkitchenpgh.org

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