A few conclusions on Obstacle Allusions

By Bob Hicks

Mr. and Mrs. Scatter spent Friday night — or at least a short part of it — at BodyVox for the opening performance of Obstacle Allusions, Eric Skinner’s new half-hour dance for Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble.

skinnerkirkb2011It was the second recent new contemporary dance piece in town in which the music was an essential and equal partner to the dancemaking, defining and pushing the ideas as much as the choreography itself. (The first was Jim McGinn’s Gust for TopShakeDance, a piece that was woven inseparably with Loren Chasse’s score based on field recordings of the sounds of wind.) In Obstacle Allusions the music isn’t original: it’s taken from works by Haydn, Aarvo Part and the film composer Ennio Morricone.

But the performance — by pianist Bill Crane, who is always an enlightenment and a pleasure to hear — was a highlight of the evening and a welcome reminder of the essential partnership of music and physical movement in dance.

The dancing was lovely, too, flowing from Skinner’s sense of the beauty of ordinary movement and slipping seamlessly into heightened expression. Marty Hughley’s fine review for The Oregonian provides an exquisite descriptive snapshot of the piece. I can add little to Marty’s description of what he calls a “lovely retro-romantic idyll,” except perhaps to stress the natural and unassuming yet quietly pointed way in which the dance considers sex and gender in its various partnerings. What the dance says is: this is just the way love is.

Most of the dancers — Skinner, his partner Daniel Kirk, Zachary Carroll, Heather Jackson, Holly Shaw, Margo Yohner — also dance with BodyVox, and it’s interesting to think how this dance might have been different if it had been a BodyVox project rather than a Skinner/Kirk. The playful title is a BodyVox natural, and the physical obstacles noted in that title — six simple hanging lights, one for each dancer — might have been used as props for pratfalls and witty sight gags. For the most part, Skinner’s choreography doesn’t do that. The obstacles are just there, helping to define space, parts of everyday life — the ordinary stuff we deal with in the course of achieving those occasional surprising moments of happiness and illumination.

Skinner/Kirk goes places that BodyVox doesn’t, and vice versa. The relationship between the two companies is subtle and close, but also separate: they thrive in each other’s company. In fact, BodyVox will present a full program of Skinner/Kirk in February as part of its 2011-12 season — a perfect idea.

But back to the music. Obstacle Allusions concludes in a ballroom-dance manner, accompanied by recorded dance-orchestra music. Structurally, you can make a good argument that that’s the right way to do it. But because the relationship between Crane’s piano performance and the dancers’ movements had been so intimate and satisfying, I found myself a little let down. I’d love to see a final movement, returning to solo piano, to bring things into a fully satisfying resolution. The dance’s 30 minutes flow past quickly. There’s plenty of room for another 4 or 5.