News & Notes starts catching up

ArtsWatch covers Venice's art and music, 'Wild Man,' the prepared pianist, Pablo Neruda and Wendy Westerwelle

Bernardo Stozzi, "Street Musicians," 1634-37, oil on canvas, 43.3 x 61.6 inches, Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo: The Bridgeman Art Library

Bernardo Strozzi, “Street Musicians,” 1634-37, oil on canvas, 43.3 x 61.6 inches, Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo: The Bridgeman Art Library

So, News & Notes hasn’t been exactly regular the past few weeks, and we’re going to attempt to get caught up this week, even though it’s supposed to be breezy today and we’re ardent proponents of using the weather as an excuse to sit around and read, watch House of Cards,  and listen to music. The first catching up we’re going to do is simply catching up with ourselves! Yes, ArtsWatch was hopping this weekend.


Still ‘Wild’ after all these years

Jamey Hampton's 1991 'Wild Man' returns as restless and dynamic as ever at BodyVox-2

When Wild Man premiered in Oregon Ballet Theatre’s 1991 American Choreographers Showcase, I thought it was a knockout. Created by Jamey Hampton in collaboration with Portland painter Michele Russo, with music by Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi, it was laced with wit provided by Russo’s set pieces. Russo’s paintings of hats, faces, and skulls in his boldly outlined style  were as much a part of Hampton’s choreography as Isamu Noguchi’s sets were for Martha Graham’s Cave of the Heart.  I was present in the studio when Hampton was creating the piece, as was Russo, and Carol Hampton, Hampton’s mother.  At that rehearsal, Hampton told the dancers that the piece had no story, “but it’s an homage to the creative spirit, the spirit that makes you able to break boundaries.”

Hampton's "Wild Man" reborn. Photo: Randall L. Milstein

Hampton’s “Wild Man” reborn. Photo: Randall L. Milstein

Hampton was billed at the time as an “emerging” choreographer, which he wasn’t.  As a member of Pilobolus, and then Momix, he had been choreographing for close to fifteen years.  For Ballet Oregon, which had originally commissioned Wild Man, he had made Kara’s Litost, an eloquent, tender duet in 1982 for Donald Logan and Deborah Wolfe. Wild Man, too, contains some quiet tenderness, which balances some hard-driving physicality –  abandoned, headlong movement that was extremely challenging for OBT’s  classically trained dancers.  

Not, however, for the dynamic sextet that is BodyVox-2Jeff George, Samuel Hobbs, Anna Marra, Josh Murry, Holly Shaw, and Katie Staszkow – on whom Hampton has revived the piece. Wild Man‘s latest incarnation opened a week ago Thursday, just in time to be wiped out by the Great Blizzard of 2014, at least for two performances.  I made it, along with 200 other people, the second Thursday, and had the profound pleasure of witnessing a performance that engaged both the mind and the heart.


BodyVox-2, Take two

Another review of BodyVox-2's latest concert

Katie Staszkow, Anna Marra in Anne Mueller's "Tuesday, 3:47 p.m." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Katie Staszkow, Anna Marra in Anne Mueller’s “Tuesday, 3:47 p.m.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert


Opening night of BodyVox-2 was electric, a packed house that demonstrated that during the past 15 years the “junior” company of BodyVox has developed an enthusiastic following. And the momentum seems to be building. The show as a whole was a well-organized journey of emotions through a total of ten pieces, new and older ones, including two very funny films by Mitchell Rose. The lighting by James Mapes was magical, creating a unique atmosphere for each piece.

Because I had watched some early rehearsals of these dances, a small fear cropped up. Three of the choreographers—Jamey Hampton, Eowyn Emerald Barrett and Eric Skinner—work together at BodyVox, and I was afraid the dances might end up looking alike. Had they lost their individual voices?  But I was totally wrong. Every choreographer had a distinct style of movement, and the dancers keenly picked up on the subtle differences of each style.


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.

Open rehearsal 2: Couples workshop with Éowyn Emerald Barrett

Another rehearsal, another choreographer, for BodyVox-2

Josh Murry and Eowyn Barrett/BodyVox

Josh Murry and Eowyn Barrett/BodyVox


We might have missed Éowyn Emerald Barrett’s choreography completely if she had actually gone through with her plan to leave Portland a year ago. Her car was packed and ready to go, but love intervened and she stayed.

“As much as I’m the feminist my mother raised me to be, I have to admit, I fell in love,” Barrett explained about the change of heart. “He really brings out a better me, and I started believing in myself and my work more as something worthy of being seen. In this past year I have developed some relationships with dancers that I really enjoy and want to keep working with. I’m still antsy to leave some days, but I love this city too, especially on windy days.”

Originally from Toronto, Barrett moved to Vancouver, Wash., and began studying at the Columbia Dance Company and the Vancouver School of the Arts and Academics.

Her relationship with BodyVox started in high school, where she met co-artistic director Ashley Roland and dancer/choreographer Eric Skinner.

“Jan Hurst was my director then and used to bring guest artists in to teach at the studio and also judge a choreography competition that was hosted there. Ashley Roland and Eric Skinner were a few of those artists. I’m pretty sure that Ashley saw my first attempt at choreography when I was 12.”

“After I started driving, I would attend their [BodyVox] shows and take company class when I could. When I was 16 Ashley set “Twins” on myself and Spenser Theberge, who was my partner at the time.”

She continued her training at York University and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where she received her BFA in Contemporary Dance. The University of North Carolina School of the Arts had a program that allowed seniors to accept jobs with dance companies and still get credit and graduate, while not paying tuition.

This is where BodyVox comes in again.

“After graduating [from high school], I would take class when I was in town, and halfway through my 3rd year at NCSA I called to see if they were hiring,” Barrett said. “They took me on as an apprentice and by that fall they had expanded on the idea, hired two more dancers, and we became the start of BodyVox-2. I danced with them for the next two years.”


Eowyn Barrett demonstrates a phrase/BodyVox

Eowyn Barrett demonstrates a phrase/BodyVox

Since moving to Portland Barrett has danced with BodyVox, Lane Hunter, Tracy Durbin, Tere Mathern and in the Le Grand Continental production produced by White Bird. In January 2012 she debuted her own company Eowyn Emerald & Dancers to sold out audiences at the BodyVox Dance Center. Bob Hicks wrote after her debut concert in 2012, “The work is polished, athletic and professional, and enjoyable for all of those things.”

Barrett is one of four choreographers creating work for the next BodyVox-2 concert, March 7-9, and those choreographers have been holding a few open rehearsals as they set work on the dancers of the company. (I talked to Anne Mueller last week, after her rehearsal.) I spoke briefly with Barrett before rehearsal last Wednesday to find out the inspiration for her new piece. She said that she had two points of departure. One, she wanted to work with the dancers on their knees, and two, she wanted to use the body posture of a monk: the head and shoulders slightly bent forward with the hands clasped together in the lap.

The mood in the studio this week was relaxed and playful. The dancers laughed and talked to each other as they worked through the complex partnering, seeming to enjoy its challenges.

I was mesmerized by the natural unfolding and development of the partnering movement that she created on the three couples. One movement connected to the next like a smooth chain of events that were destined to happen. Her choreography is inventive, unique, daring and exciting to watch. Barrett herself describes her movement as physical, poetic, technically demanding and emotionally complex.


Q. What is your creative process like?

A. Usually I have a story I want to tell or get out of my mind. Then I pick music. I like to play with lots of things on the first day, film a lot of little ideas, then come in with the emotional context (for myself), start setting larger chunks, figure out if the story is getting an actual ending (more for me), and then talking to the dancers individually about their characters.


When I watched rehearsal on Wednesday, Eowyn hadn’t chosen any music yet and was playing different songs and playing them for the dancers as they ran through the dance. It was a very intriguing experiment that I had a different visceral reaction to each time, depending on the music.

Q. What music did you end up choosing for this piece?

A. It changed a bunch, which is not typical for me. It ended up being: “Recomposed” by Max Richter; Vivaldi, “The Four Seasons.” I am using 2 movements.

Q. Is the music important in how the choreography is shaped?

A. I would say that up until recently I always went in with music and my decisions were always guided by the music. Recently I have been trying out, not being so tied to the music while I am creating. This time the movement wasn’t tied to the music at all because I didn’t settle on music until Thursday.

Q. You have a natural affinity for partnering. How did you hone your partnering craft?

A. I don’t know. But I have been told that since I first started choreographing. I think I trust in it…more than anything else.


BodyVox-2 rehearsing Eowyn Barrett's dance/BodyVox

BodyVox-2 rehearsing Eowyn Barrett’s dance/BodyVox

Q. What do you think created the spark in you to choreograph?

A. When I was living in Washington there wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be but at the studio. I think I was given a key to the studio when I was 13 or 14. I used to ride the bus in on off days and create, sometimes on my own or with Spenser. After it became a regular thing, we would set work on other dancers in the company too.

Q. Do you have any advice for fellow choreographers on how to get started and how to get unstuck?

A. Go for it, turn on a camera and improv, set the mood and just start moving. Trust yourself, avoid repetition and pay attention. If you get stuck put on music like The Black Keys or something that is the opposite of what you have been using. It helps to break up the air around the movement a bit.

Take risks, and listen to your guts – I have had a huge year of learning to listen to gut reaction.”

Q. What are your day jobs? How do you make a life as a dancer?

A. Up until the end of August I was working at the Fox Tower theatre as the first assistant, so 40-45 hours a week. I also taught, did payroll at BodyVox, and rehearsed my own stuff. I don’t really know what I was thinking… I have a work ethic that is sometimes detrimental, especially in my last 5 years. And it’s always driven me to the weirdest things. Since leaving the Fox, I have picked up two more schools, and I say yes to most gigs that come along. It’s financially a lot harder, but now I can actually be in the studio when I want to be and not squeezing it in or annoying the neighbor below.

I currently teach at: Columbia Dance, Sultanov Russian Ballet Academy, and BodyVox. I’m also about to do a stint at Da Vinci Middle School for 2 months. I also work part time in the BodyVox office doing payroll and bookkeeping.

Q. What are your other interests outside of dance?

A. I love to bake, I really like being in a darkroom and developing film, but that is getting harder and harder. I like yoga, tennis, my boyfriend is really into disc-golf, which I’m just learning. I used to be a huge film nerd, but I’ve been taking that part slow for a bit (I’m still a huge nerd though).

Q. What are your plans for the future?

A. I’m planning a new show for April. I want to put together another Pacific Dance Makers concert this spring/summer. I am in the planning stages of attempting something new.

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