Skinner/Kirk Dance Company hits rewind and fast-forward

In their upcoming concert Eric Skinner and Daniel Kirk pause to revisit their pasts and ponder an uncertain future

By HEATHER WISNER

The big questions we begin asking ourselves in middle age—about identity, achievement, love, loss, and how to reconcile the passage of time—color an upcoming concert by dance company Skinner/Kirk.

Founded in 1998 by Eric Skinner and Daniel Kirk, the company has produced work as the pair’s day job—dancing with BodyVox—allowed. But Skinner recently retired from BodyVox, where he and Kirk were founding dancers, and is considering his next moves, and both men have paused to revisit their pasts and ponder an uncertain future.

This new show, which runs February 1-10 at BodyVox, features an all-male cast that includes Brian Nelson, Chase Hamilton, and Skye Stouber, and it offers a world premiere and two restaged works, both of which, Semita and Here and There, Now and Then, were originally commissioned by White Bird. During the creation process of Semita, Kirk began to spend more time with his dying father, which pulled him away from the project: the dance palpably reflects that feeling of being unmoored. It opens with a figure floating in space, lit by lighting designer Mark LaPierre.

Daniel Kirk and Eric Skinner/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

“I don’t like to say what one thing is exactly about—it could be my dad in the afterlife, it could be me feeling this sense of loss. It’s a sense of spacelessness,” Kirk explains. A figure enters to guide the central character through a transition and becomes part of the journey along the way.

“Anyone who leads you through an experience necessarily colors the experience,” Kirk points out. “Are you going to Disneyland with a five-year-old with wide eyes or someone who thinks this is stupid?” Originally, he chose a close friend to dance the guide: Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer Elizabeth Lewis Burden. This time, Skinner takes on that role, which will naturally change the dynamic of the piece, although it was too early in the restaging process for them to know exactly how.

Then again, the unknown is a hallmark of the work. “The theme is coming from a sense of nothing, being led somewhere else,” Kirk says. “I can’t say if it’s somewhere better or worse; it’s about the moment of transition. Where we’re at in our lives, careers, ages—it seemed appropriate again.”

Restaging Semita not only allowed him to reconsider the experience, it gave him insight into how he has progressed as an artist. Older work, he says, is “a snapshot of your life at the time: Where was my mind? What kind of phrases was I creating? What was my process?”

Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Skinner had to revisit his own process in the evening’s other restaged work, Here and There, Now and Then, which will mark another gender shift in the company’s repertory as he swaps men into a trio originally set on women. “It’s a different perspective,” Skinner says. “The trio is sort of soft and flowy, so it’s interesting to see men doing that kind of movement.”

For the record, he and Kirk didn’t set out to draft an all-male cast for this show; the women they had hoped to work with were busy. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter: Skinner says his choreography isn’t guided by gender so much as a question of who can do what. He initially challenged himself to work with a limited movement vocabulary, “to see how many ways I could explore those steps,” he says. The challenge now is to adapt that movement to dancers with different body types and different ways of moving, and shift its staging from in-the-round—as it was done when it debuted—to a traditional black box theater where audiences will see it from just one angle.

Erik Skinner and Chase Hamilton/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

The evening’s premiere, unnamed at press time, may be the most bittersweet part of the program. It explores the relationship between a young dancer and a seasoned dancer, although it’s also about one’s relationship with the past and the future, as the older dancer sees himself in the younger one, and vice versa. Set to music by Verdi and Charpentier, sung by countertenors, the piece pairs Skinner with Hamilton, a dancer half his age. Movement-wise, “There are counterbalances,” Skinner says. “I was thinking about how life can be heavy sometimes. There are parts where Chase is standing on me, or has become this weight on me. We’re dealing with feelings of lightness, heaviness and support.”

Thematically, he says, “I’ve been working with the idea of reflections, looking in a mirror, seeing who Chase might be 20 years from now, me looking in the mirror and seeing the dancer I used to be. It’s about who we were or will become.” Skinner allows that while he’s still in good shape (“In some ways I’m dancing better than I did when I was in my 20s,” he says), he’d been pondering retiring from BodyVox for a few years and felt ready to close that chapter and move on. Still, he admits, “I’m adjusting: still teaching, still struggling with what I want to do next.”

Kirk believes that struggle is universally relatable: “Everybody experiences having to look back at their own youth,” he says. “I think people will find that relationship and be able to imprint it on their own experience.” And, he adds, what audiences want from dance seems to have shifted over time. “I feel that at one time, people went to dance shows because they wanted to see something that wasn’t human: they wanted to see people float on their toes, see a story that took them to another place. Now they want to see a reflection of themselves in the art they consume.”

Skinner/Kirk: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 1-3 and 8-10, 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10; BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 N.W. 17th Ave., bodyvox.com or 503-229-0627

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