Eric Skinner

Dance review: skinner/kirk take the old with the new

Dancers and dances age, but they don't stay in one place

One new work, two old works, five men, and ten years between then and now, old work and new.

That’s the formula for skinner|kirk Dance Ensemble’s concert at BodyVox (through February 10). The pairing of old and new work isn’t its only consideration of the passing of time: The concert also explores the passage of time for its creators. The company was co-founded in 1998 by Daniel Kirk and Eric Skinner, and both have had extensive careers in performance (notably with Oregon Ballet Theatre and Milwaukee Ballet). They were both founding dancers of BodyVox, where Kirk continues to dance, and they started skinner/kirk to present their own work. Reflection on that lived experience is at the heart of this concert.

The first piece, 54/27 (the ages of the dancers involved) paired Skinner with a much younger dancer, Chase Hamilton. The work begins in unassuming simplicity. A modest spotlight outlines the emptiness of the space. Moving calmly, the men take their time easing into movement, starting with simple walking. These walking patterns lay the groundwork for the evening’s one new work, allowing the audience to acclimate to the dancers’ bodies and demeanor, without the fluff of performance and gaudy dance moves to distract from their humanity. After a few minutes, they invite more motion into their bodies, sustaining by the powerful presence the two had already established.

Chase Hamilton, left, and Eric Skinner in the world premiere of Skinner’s “54/27” for the skinner/kirk Dance Ensemble at BodyVox/Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert


Intensity grew, in part due to composers Verdi and Charpentier’s baroque crescendos, that undergirded the grounded movement. The choreography and execution maintained a calm that kept the work centered and relatable. Skinner and Hamilton demonstrated that their physical movements need not override their emotional presence throughout the work by allowing the two to exist in a complementary fashion. At times, the delicacy with which Skinner attended to his movements recalled the many years of training he has spent becoming innately attuned to his body as a seasoned dancer. Simultaneously, Hamilton’s spritely energy and eagerness of focus highlighted his youth and tenacity. For a work that focuses on the juxtaposition of age, the duet was one of equals. Counterbalancing one another, they sewed movements together in a way that made 54/27 a work fully dependent on trust and respect.

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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.

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Profiles & Conversations 2017

From poets to painters to dancers to actors to musicians, 21 tales from ArtsWatch on the people who make the art and why they do it

Art is a whole lot of things, but at its core it’s about people, and how they see life, and how they make a life, and how they get along or struggle with the mysteries of existence. That includes, of course, the artists themselves, whose stories and skills are central to the premise. In 2017 ArtsWatch’s writers have sat down with a lot of artists – painters, actors, dancers and choreographers, poets, music-makers – and listened as they spun out their tales.

We’ve been able to tell their stories because of support from you and people like you. Oregon ArtsWatch is a nonprofit cultural journalism organization, and your gifts help pay for the stories we produce. It’s easy to become a member and make a donation. Just click on the “donate today” button below:

Here are 21 stories from 2017 about Oregon artists and artists who’ve come here to do their work:

 


 

Erik Skinner. Photo: Michael Shay

Eric Skinner’s happy landing

Jan. 18: “On the afternoon that Snowpocalypse struck Portland, Eric Skinner walked into the lobby at BodyVox Dance Center after a morning in the studio and settled easily onto one of the long couches in the corner. As always he looked trim and taut: small but strong and tough, with a body fat index down somewhere around absolute zero. If anyone looks like a dancer, Skinner does. Even in repose he seems all about movement: you get the sense he might spring up suddenly like a Jumping Jack on those long lean muscles and bounce somewhere, anywhere, just for the sake of bouncing.” In January, after 30 years on Portland stages, Skinner was getting ready to retire from BodyVox – but not from dance, he told Bob Hicks.

 


 

Les Watanabe in ‘Sojourn’ by Donald McKayle, Inner City Repertory Company. Photographed by Martha Swope in New York. 1972. Photo courtesy of Les Watanabe

Les Watanabe on Alvin Ailey, Lar Lubovich, Donald McKayle and his life in dance

Jan. 20: In a wide-ranging Q&A interview, Jamuna Chiarini hears a lot of modern-dance history from Watanabe, who was in the thick of it and now teaches at Western Oregon University:

“During Alvin Ailey’s CBS rehearsals, Lar Lubovitch was teaching in the next studio. I ran into him at the drinking fountain. While living in L.A., I had read articles about him in Dance Magazine. So while he was stooped over drinking, I exclaimed, ‘Lar Lubovitch! I’ve read all about you!’

“At that point he stood up facing me wiping his mouth and looking incredulous like, ‘Who is this guy?’ I then asked, ‘Do you ever have auditions? I would love to dance with you.’

“’Are you dancing now?’ he asked.

“’Yes, with Alvin Ailey next door, but it is only for five weeks.’

“’Where do you take class?’ Lar asked. ‘At Maggie Black’s,’ I answered. ‘Good. Let’s meet at her first class. Then you can rush back to rehearsal. See you next week.’”

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Men, bottled up and burning

Skinner/Kirk's "Burn It Backwards" dances in and around the way men try, and sometimes fail, to make relationships

Over the past twenty years, give or take, Eric Skinner and Daniel Kirk, founders of skinner|kirk DANCE ENSEMBLE, have developed what you might call an autobiographical movement vocabulary: a braiding-together of ballet lifts, modern floor falls, spins and jumps and tumbles that reflect their performing careers in Portland with Oregon Ballet Theatre, BodyVox, and the Gregg Bielemeier Dance Project. At OBT they danced in work by Portland choreographer Josie Moseley, and there is a lot of her particular branch of modernism in their choreography.

I saw all that and more in Burn It Backwards, their new evening-length work, which opened Thursday night at BodyVox Dance Center, performed to music by Elliott Smith, played live—extremely live!—by Bill Athens, Galen Clark, Catherine Feeny and Chris Johnedis. Smith, who died in 2003 at a very young 34, lived most of his short life in Portland, and according to Wikipedia (yes, I had to look him up) was strongly influenced by the Beatles and Bob Dylan, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature last year. Of his own songwriting, Smith said, “I don’t really think of it in terms of language, I think about it in terms of shapes.”

Brent Luebbert and James Healey, facing off. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Skinner and Kirk took the title of their piece from a line in Smith’s Sweet Adeline, one of the thirteen songs arranged by Clark specifically for these performances. They chose it, they say in a program note, “because it speaks of forming a new history, both erasing and creating.” That’s a pretty good description of the choreographic process, or the creative process generally, but what Skinner and Kirk actually put on stage was a finished, polished series of dances for themselves and three other men, Chase Hamilton, James Healey and Brent Luebbert, all of them accomplished, well-schooled dancers.

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Life and our own sensation disorientations

Tahni Holt's new dance operated on its audience in very particular ways. Soup is involved.

Midway through the opening-night performance of Tahni Holt’s Sensation/Disorientation I had my own sensation-disorientation experience. I was struck with the feeling that this dance had a lot to do with the soup I had made for dinner that night. I don’t mean to diminish or speak irreverently about Holt’s work by any means—my soup was no ordinary soup and neither was the dance.

The soup was Moroccan Lentil Soup from my favorite online recipe source, Forks Over Knives, and it was one of the tastiest soups I have ever made. It was a simple recipe, which was helpful because I had squeezed in cooking and eating with my family between picking my son up from school, picking up my mom to babysit, shopping for ingredients, and going to the theater. The recipe included such basic ingredients as onions, carrots, tomatoes and red lentils, with the addition of an exotic, colorful collection of spices and flavors: coriander, cumin, turmeric, smoked paprika, cinnamon, ground ginger, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, vegetable broth and lemon juice.

It was the gorgeous photo that accompanied this recipe that initially piqued my interest. The soup was made up of oranges and yellows. Garnished with green parsley on top, it sat in the middle of a beautiful turquoise, ceramic bowl, which was decorated with small white embossed flowers. It was beautiful, achingly beautiful.

Tahni Holt’s “Sensation/Disorientation”/Photo by Kamala Kingsley courtesy of White Bird

In this moment, while watching Sensation/Disorientation, time and space collapsed, and all of a sudden the soup that I had made for my family—its colors, spices, vegetables, and lentils—connected me to history, to women, to my femininity, my family, my role as a woman in my household (as a mother and a wife), and in my life in society. More, my relationship with other women became present in the dance. In this instant, I suddenly felt connected to the earth, to every culture, to every woman that ever existed and to every woman here now. This was a dance made unapologetically by a woman, for women, about women.

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Let’s see, now, where were we? Big inauguration, American carnage, big threats, bellicose speech. Bigger protest, millions of women, pink hats, sea to shining sea. Twitter wars unabated. Health care on the skids. War on reporters. Alternative facts.

And, oh, yes, tucked away there in the corner: a vow to kill the National Endowment for the Arts. And kill the National Endowment for the Humanities. And “privatize” the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has mostly been privatized already, anyway. Cost-cutting. Getting tough on the budget. Victory for the taxpayers. (NEA 2016 budget: $148 million. NEH 2016 budget: $148 million. Percentage of total federal budget, each: 0.003. CPB 2016 funding via federal government: $445 million. Percentage of total federal budget, all three agencies: less than 0.02. Federal budget 2015 for military marching bands, $437 million. Taxpayer expense to build or renovate National Football League stadiums, past 20 years, mostly through local and regional taxes: more than $7 billion.)

A fiscal conservative or libertarian can make an honest argument for eliminating the NEA and NEH on grounds that they’re simply not an appropriate use of taxpayer funding; culture should be funded privately. Here at ArtsWatch we don’t agree with that analysis. We believe there are many valid reasons for government financial aid to culture, and that the payoffs to taxpayers are many, from economic – in healthy cities, the arts are job and money multipliers – to educational and much more. Historically, consider the continuing dividends of the WPA and other cultural projects underwritten by the federal government during the Great Depression of the 1930s: In Oregon, for instance, Timberline Lodge.

But there’s much more to this move than a courteous philosophical/economic disagreement. The move to defund the NEA has a long and embattled history, dating at least to the so-called “culture wars” of the 1980s and ’90s, when a resurgent right-wing political movement convinced that artists were mostly a pack of degenerate liberals discovered that attacking the arts was a splendid red-meat issue for its base. They didn’t succeed in killing off the national endowments, but they did weaken them. The new administration seems to think it can finally finish them off. That would weaken state agencies such as the Oregon Arts Commission, which gets funding from the NEA, and in turn weaken arts organizations across the state, which get money from the OAC and, often more importantly, a stamp of approval that helps them raise private donations. Killing the endowments would be a rash move that would save hardly anything in the national budget and cause deep mischief to the nation’s well-being. It strikes us as petty and vindictive and, frankly, foolish.

It’s also a reach that might fail. Republicans like culture, too, and understand its value, and often support it generously. Traditionally, that has included Republican politicians. Will they fall in line with the new administration, or will they quietly scuttle its gambit? Keep your eye on this thing. We will, too.

 


 

Duffy Epstein and Dana Green in the premiere of the D.B. Cooper play “db.” Photo: Owen Carey

THE FERTILE GROUND FESTIVAL, Portland’s sprawling celebration of new works in theater, dance, solo performance, circus arts, musical theater, comedy, and other things that ordinarily happen on a stage, continues through January 29. ArtsWatch writers have been out and about, writing their impressions. You can catch up with some of them below:

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A mellow ‘Meadow’ like old times

BodyVox's "Urban Meadow," a blend of repertory favorites and a celebration of dancer Eric Skinner, is like a dinner party with old friends

Going to opening night of BodyVox’s Urban Meadow at Lincoln Performance Hall on Thursday evening was a little like dropping over for dinner with a bunch of old friends you haven’t seen in a while, and remembering why you liked them in the first place. The table was set nicely, the food and wine were good, and everybody swapped old jokes and stories with easy familiarity. There was even a guest of honor, who was fondly feted, and who told a few good tales himself.

The “guest,” or more appropriately the member of the family, was dancer Eric Skinner, an original BodyVoxer whose final Portland performances with the company after twenty years will be at the end of this brief run on Saturday. And the show, though technically a Portland premiere, is made up of a bunch of favorites that longtime BodyVox followers will recognize, and generally be pleased to see again. (Newbies will have the pleasure of meeting the members of the family for the first time.) This is the program, assembled a year and a half ago, that BodyVox takes on tour: It’s been from Germany to China, and is heading soon to China again.

“Hopper’s Dinner”: an exuberant feast. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Urban Meadow is an expansive program, running a little over two hours with the addition of three celebratory pieces chosen by Skinner as a sort of final tip of the hat, but because all of the works are short and well-shaped, it doesn’t feel overstuffed. The whole thing’s introduced with wit and charm by co-artistic director Jamey Hampton (his mother-in-law, he noted wryly on Thursday, liked to refer to him as the Dick Clark of dance) and, before Skinner’s portion of the program, by Ashley Roland, Hampton’s co-founder, co-artistic director, and wife.

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