Chase Hamilton

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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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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