Holly Shaw

push/FOLD: The many faces of Adam

The world premiere of Samuel Hobbs's "Early" investigates the human condition, masked and unmasked

As the audience entered the dimly lit AWOL Warehouse for push/FOLD’s world premiere of Samuel Hobbs’s Early, our first exposure was Hobbs himself, standing completely nude and still in the space. He remained in his stillness until the audience’s bustle of picking a space in the round had ceased.

With a downcast gaze and slightly torqued stance, Hobb’s posture recalled modern day Auguste Rodin’s Adam, a reinterpretation of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. By pointing his fingers to the earth and collapsing in his upper body, Rodin’s Adam contrasts Michelangelo’s God-fearing, enlightened Adam, whose arm stretches towards a classically portrayed God-figure in the sky.

push/FOLD’s “Early” begins with a solo by Samuel Hobbs/Photo by Jingzi Zhao

During Early, Hobbs, who is push/FOLD’s artistic director, gives birth to multiple sides of himself, similar to the multiple interpretations of Adam throughout history. Hobbs has told me about a brief absence from dance when we had talked earlier in the week, and I asked him if Early was about a rebirth of himself. “’Early’ as a rebirth for myself?” he responded. “I think answering that might provide too much of a tangible thing to associate with a piece I’d like people to experience unadulterated.”

And so it went, the wonderful challenge of experiencing contemporary dance unadulterated.


Dancing inside and out of the lines

Review: Skinner/Kirk's "Within the Lines" thinks entertainingly about fear, restraint, creativity, and crossing borders

A lot of the time, Eric Skinner’s new hour-long dance piece Within the Lines isn’t. Skinner and his four fellow dancers in the Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble spend the hour onstage at BodyVox Dance Center traversing the lines – slipping below or between them, stretching them into different shapes, hog-tying them into corners, wrapping themselves up in them, tripping or tromping on them, using them as springboards, snapping them in and out of shape.

It’s an always intriguing, often beautiful exploration of a question that’s physical, metaphorical, and even spiritual: what are our limits? Well, the line is wavy. But it’s fun and invigorating to watch as these five bodies try to figure it out.

Shaw and Skinner, all wrapped up. Photo: Christopher Peddecord

Shaw and Skinner, all wrapped up. Photo: Christopher Peddecord

Where do the lines come from? Immediately, from the mind and fabrication of artist Sumi Wu, who supplies the dancers with a series of elegant forms, or booby traps, or possibilities, or however you want to think of them. Consisting mainly of very strong stretch fabric and possibly plastic slats (program notes don’t make their construction clear), they’re like little string theories for movement, solid yet malleable, shifting with and against the performers. At various times they seem like clothes lines, circus high-wire ropes, swimming-pool lane markers, big-box gift ribbon, telephone wires, crime-scene tapes. One semi-flexible structure – the same one used in 2012’s Juxtaposed? – is like a cave-sized, see-through hexagonal prism, creating a barrier and a small performing space at the same time. As lighted by technical director James Mapes (who also did some of the fabrication), the dance between performers and set pieces is a rising and falling mystery, a visual banquet.


Open rehearsal 3: Eric Skinner on choreographing with confidence

The last of a series of peeks at the BodyVox-2 concert, which begins Thursday

Eric Skinner rehearses his new piece for BodyVox-2./BodyVox

Eric Skinner rehearses his new piece for BodyVox-2./BodyVox


Originally from Muncie, Indiana,  Eric Skinner has had a hand in some of the most important dance developments in Portland during the past two decades, both as a dancer and choreographer. He was a founding member of Oregon Ballet Theatre, performed with Gregg Bielemeier, was a founder of aero/betty aerial dance theatre, and formed BodyVox Dance Company (with artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland), where he is now Artistic Associate. In 2002 Skinner with his partner Daniel Kirk, formed their own company, the Skinner|Kirk Dance Ensemble.

Skinner’s newest piece is titled “Feeling Unknown,” and it’s one of four new works, each by a different choreographer, created for the upcoming BodyVox-2 concert March 7-9 at the BodyVox Dance Center.  The choreography, danced to the song “Hand Covers Bruise” by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, is for the three women of BodyVox-2—Holly Shaw, Anna Marra and Katie Staszkow. Having used mostly men in his previous choreography, this is Skinner’s first time choreographing for an all-female cast.

“My choreographing initially was just to create dances and initially there were several men around that were willing to come into the studio and participate,” Skinner said. “In those experiences I came to love the power, strength and grounded feeling you often get with men working and dancing together. That being said, this piece has all of those qualities and the women that are dancing it are wonderful. Holly, Anna and Katie are all amazing dancers. I never doubted that they wouldn’t be wonderful, but I had never created the opportunity for myself to set my work on just women until now. It has been a great experience and I am anxious to do more.”

The small section of “Feeling Unknown” that I saw back in January was vigorous and exciting.  Skinner says that “he likes ballet as a foundation but likes the variety that modern offers, something he can really sink his teeth into.” The choreography definitely reads as ballet-based but feels unrestricted and limitless in its expression.

The dancers began as three separate units facing off into a corner. As soon as the music started, they began revolving and weaving around each other, tossing one another into space as they traveled across the room like a whirlwind, separating at the end and walking off alone. The choreography had a sense of strength and power and propulsion. It’s was like watching someone turn a wind turbine on that blew the dancers across the room–and then turning it off.

Skinner is meticulous and driven in his artistic process. He admits to liking a deadline. “It’s all in there, you just need permission to let it out or a reason to.”

He teaches the dancers several phrases of movement at a time, watches them dance it, gives them detailed feedback and then repeats the whole process over and over, adding more and more steps as they go along. It sounds exhausting, but the dancers really enjoyed being part of the creation of this new piece. How the dancers responded to  Skinner’s feedback in the movement was as much part of the dance as his directions and vision.


Holly Shaw, Anna Marra and Katie Staszkow of BodyVox-2

Holly Shaw, Anna Marra and Katie Staszkow of BodyVox-2

Q: What is your choreographic process like?

“It seems to change all the time, at least in my mind (dancers I work with may beg to differ). I sometimes come into the studio with several long phrases of movement already prepared to teach the dancers. Then use those phrases to build the dance. Other times I will come in with music that is inspiring to me with nothing else prepared. I then climb up to the top of the high dive platform, take a deep breath, and jump. This method is scarier, but I feel that the movement comes from a deeper place and often times with better results. This is what I did for this new BV-2 piece, and I am very happy with the results. They are looking beautiful, and I am seeing them dance in ways I have not seen before.”

Q: Do you have any advice for choreographers on the process of making dances? How to start, how to get unstuck, how to work with and communicate with dancers, time management, how not to self-sabotage, etc.

“Start with confidence when you walk into the studio. Even if you have not prepared a step, know and believe that you can do what you are setting out to do. Every time you create something you are taking a chance. It would be boring otherwise. If you get stuck move on to something else and come back to what you got stuck on. Most dancers just want to believe in what they are doing and want to do the best they can, why else would they be there (it usually is not for the money!!). They are the one on stage and want to feel good about what they are doing, and that comes from the confidence the choreographer brings into the studio.

Time management is a tough one. You just need to stay on top of it and, like I said, if you get stuck, move on to something else.

Self-sabotage? Don’t over-think things and learn to edit.”

Q: How did Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble come into existence? What was the impetus to start the company? What are your plans for the company?

“As much as Daniel and I have loved our involvement in BodyVox, it is Jamey and Ashley’s creative vision in which we play a part. We both knew that we had a voice of our own that was different from theirs and needed a way to express that, and voila, Skinner|Kirk Dance Ensemble was formed. We are in the process of getting our 501(c)(3) non-profit status and the future will see what comes.”

Q: How have you sustained yourself as a dancer and an artist for so many years in terms of injury prevention and keeping yourself inspired?

“I have been extremely lucky as a dancer. Since I left college, I have been dancing professionally non-stop, except for about a year-and-a-half just after I left OBT. During that time I went back to school and I became a licensed massage therapist. Since then I have sustained my career as a dancer with BodyVox, teaching dance, and doing massage, and I do very little massage anymore. I now mostly teach, dance and choreograph.

As for staying inspired, I love what I do. I am blessed to have come from a family that enabled me to follow my passion, and this is the biggest gift in life that I could ever have been given. I count my blessings all the time. Thanks mom and dad!!

Injury prevention, I listen to my body, feed it well. Very little junk food and no fast food!”

Q: For me you are a role model in that you are dancing past the “normal” age for dancers. What is your philosophy on this topic?

“I want dance as long as I can and so I try to be smart about the decisions I make. I also tell all of my closest friends that they are my barometer, and that they need to be honest with me and tell me if it is time to hang up my dance belt.”



Q: I am interested in the creation of your piece “Juxtaposition” that you choreographed for your last concert. Who created the sculpture that you danced in and around? How did this collaboration come about? What was this process like?

I am always open and looking for collaboration and “Juxtaposition” was a wonderful collaboration on every level. The sculptures were an idea that I originally had driving around one day and then sketched onto paper. I then approached a friend and sculptress, Sumi Wu, who then brought them to life. The process was very exciting every step of the way, from my initial meeting with Sumi, to the creation of the actual sculptures, and then, when we put the lights on them…wow, I couldn’t believe how amazing and striking they were.

The live music came about in Josie Moseley’s modern class at BV. She has a live accompanist named Tim Ribner, he is amazing! He comes in and sits down at the piano, and when he starts playing, the most amazing sounds start coming out. Things that you never thought could or should be coming from a piano. I fell in love with his spontaneity, his improvisational skills, and his ability to capture the mood and vibe of the movement that was happening in the moment. One day I approached him after a class and asked him if he would be interested in creating music for this new dance I was working on. The ask was kind of in left field because I really didn’t know him, never worked with him, but I had a good feeling about him and felt it was worth exploring, and I am so happy I did.

The costume designer was another first time chance Daniel and I were willing to take and are very pleased we did. We had been to see a show earlier in the year where we liked the costumes very much. We made a mental note of the name Rachelle Waldie and when this project came around we contacted her. She was a pleasure to work with, and we loved thought and designs she brought to both pieces that she costumed. We would definitely work with her again.

Juxtaposition, skinner/kirk dance ensemble from Sumi Wu on Vimeo.

Q: Please talk about your experience with collaboration and what makes it successful.

“I feel that collaboration is a wonderful thing, and I love what a group can bring to the creation process. I like working with other people, I like having the input of others and bringing their ideas into the fold. Fortunately, I can’t think of any bad experiences. Some are tougher and more complicated than others, but you just have to keep the faith and trust in the people you are working with.”

Q: What is next for you?

“Next for me is putting on my dancer hat and going on a tour to Europe with BodyVox and then the final show of our season ’15’.”


Spending time in the studio watching the BodyVox-2 dancers prepare for their concert during the open rehearsal was simply sublime. I could have sat there forever watching them rehearse, but really I wanted to jump out of my chair and join in.  BV-2 is made up of a group of really sweet, beautiful dancers who are incredibly eager to learn and hard-working. I enjoyed getting to know them as dancers and people. It sounds a little clichéd but being able to see the behind the scenes development of a dance really adds another layer of value to the final product and makes it that much more special. And it made me eager to see the concert this weekend.


ArtsWatch observed the open rehearsal process for the dances of both Eowyn Emerald Barrett and Anne Mueller, and interviewed each of them.

Eowyn Emerald and Jonathan Krebs in Emerald's contemporary pas de deux "hexe ist." Photo montage: Tim Summers

Every now and again I glance beyond my two left feet and realize with pleasure that Portland’s in the middle of a dance renaissance. It’s not as if anyone’s getting rich in the process. And it’s not as if, at least at this point, the rest of the world is beating a path to the city’s sprung floor. Still, the evidence is real and compelling.

Between the vibrant poles of Oregon Ballet Theatre at one end and White Bird Dance at the other are such flourishing outfits as Northwest Dance Project, BodyVox, Conduit and tEEth, as well as individual choreographers and dancers as varied as Tere Mathern, Gregg Bielemeier, Josie Moseley, Rachel Tess, Linda Austin, and Katherine Longstreth.

And new performers just keep flowing into the city, or cropping up from its own development programs. These days, if you’re a dance follower, you can spend some very busy nights keeping up with what’s going down. You can even, if you really want to, take sides: ballet vs. contemporary, structured vs. improvisational, athletic vs. intellectual, chamber vs. electronic vs. rock ’n’ roll.

So it was only a little bit of a surprise on Saturday evening when I showed up at the BodyVox Dance Center for the first of two performances of new works by dancer/choreographer Eowyn Emerald and discovered a packed house.

Apparently the abundance of the opening-show crowd was just a test run.

“The 8 o’clock show was sold out even more than the 6 o’clock,” dancer and concert co-producer Rachel Slater told me later. “It was standing room only.” That means, by rough count, that something on the order of 340 people chose this small show as their destination on a busy Saturday night.

BodyVox’s move three years ago from rented digs on the upper floor of a working brewery to its own new space in a renovated former Wells Fargo carriage house and stable on Northwest Northrup Street has played a significant supporting role in Portland’s dance revival. It’s not only given a much better showcase for BodyVox’s own programs, it’s also provided a fine space for independent companies looking for a good spot to put on their own shows.