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.
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.
The evening continued with Semita, a work that Kirk described to be reflective of time spent with his dying father in an Arts Watch preview by Heather Wisner. Skinner joined Kirk for the duet, and it was obvious that their partnership was rooted in years of trust from working together. The two peacefully coexisted beside one another in motion, while differing in their subtle nuances of movement styles. Semita was originally cast with Kirk and a female dancer, Elizabeth Lewis Burden. The re-casting with Skinner dancing her part transformed the work while opening up questions of identity.
Lighting design for the evening, by Mark LaPierre, was in its own way as masterful as the performance. The lighting added just the right sense of ephemeral, otherworldliness that so delicately opposed the humanity. Semita began with an illuminated Kirk, spinning in fetal position while hanging from two simple chords under his ankles and torso. His repetitive rotations allowed the audience to slip into a meditation so mesmerizing that it was easy to miss Skinner’s first movements into the light as he slid across the floor slowly on his back. Semita allowed the outside world to stop for a moment—in a way that reminds you to sit back and enjoy life as it unfolds before you. Kirk’s body slowly expanded into different forms as he continued rotating, and the rest of the work followed suit, as the two eventually joined one another in the vertical plane and danced with the certainty that comes only from years of collaboration.
The final piece unleashed the power of the currently all-male dance company. Here and There, Now and Then was another revisited piece choreographed by Skinner. The music had a low bass throughout that mimicked the groundedness of the dancers. The full cast—which included both Skinner and Kirk, Hamilton, Brian Nelson, and Skye Stouber— blended their varying training styles through the hybrid postmodern/balletic movements. At times, the choreography moved with the fluidity and lift of a ballet, while other moments were bracketed by pauses, unexpected shifts of weight, and fragmented shapes. The combination of weightedness and lift provided for a very atmospheric tone. Their partnering and transitions seamlessly alluded to the natural placing of movements within the choreography.
Though old and new, the trio of works were the perfect complement to one another. This program proved that time has no bearing on worth. Whether it be a casting change to revisit a past piece, a new creation with old faces, or something in-between, the company assured us that old and new are just factors in the ever-evolving world of movement. skinner|kirk is a testament to the authenticity of a human body in motion, and its relentless capability to convey what cannot be said in words.