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Weekend Wrap: skinner/kirk & 'Cymbeline'

Ryan McCarthy as Posthumous and Kelley Curran as Imogen in “Shakespeare’s Amazing Cymbeline”

Patrick Weishampel / courtesy of Portland Center Stage

You may have noticed that the National Football League held one of its annual Super Bowls yesterday. I watched, as usual. The game was tense, though not particularly exciting. The commercials, some of them, were clever. This morning, the day after, I remember one really good catch, its quality amplified by the importance of the game.

That’s not all I did this weekend. C’mon: It doesn’t take THAT long to buy chips for the game. I also managed to get to a performance by the skinner/kirk Dance Ensemble at the BodyVox dance center and the opening night show of Portland Center Stage’s Shakespeare’s Amazing Cymbeline.

You know what? They didn’t squeeze in six commercials during pauses in the dance or play. And this morning, my poor brainpan is spilling over with images and thoughts from them. If the governments of the great state of Oregon spent as much on the arts as we collectively spent on chips, dip and beer yesterday…

skinner/kirk Dance Ensemble, BodyVox: Eric Skinner and Daniel Kirk have been performing and making dances together since 1989, and they’ve been working with BodyVox for the past 15 years. Their work outside of BodyVox is informed by their ballet training (they danced at Oregon Ballet Theatre, too) — beautiful in the same quiet, stately, balanced way.

That work was exemplified in the concert this weekend by “Obstacle Allusions,” with its progression of movement phrases danced to the music of Arvo Part, Haydn and Ennio Morricone, played by pianist Bill Crane, a series of long stretches and composed resting points punctuated by elegant steps, carefully constructed to fit the music. The “obstacles” in the title were six hanging light bulbs, just low enough to threaten the noggins of the dancers, who made things more difficult by swinging them back and forth occasionally.

Skinner and Kirk enlisted Josie Moseley to choreograph a duet for them, and she responded with “Flying Over Emptiness,” a harrowing, expressionist work that used a haunting film by Janet McIntyre to explore just how scary some of the territory we traverse can be. In its last image, Kirk is screaming silently, and then, blackout. The program said the dance was “For Mary,” and the dance community of Portland is small enough for us to know that Mary is the great choreographer Mary Oslund, who is dealing with a serious chronic health problem that has an uncertain outcome. And if you want to know what that must feel like, “Flying Over Emptiness” would be a good place to start.

Zachary Caroll and Holly Shaw in “Belmont,” skinner/kirk Dance Ensemble

Blaine Truitt Covert

“One,” another duet, was made in 1997, a trapeze piece, that challenges our ideas about what uses and forms the apparatus can take. Imagine Skinner and Kirk sharing the same small platform, curled together and then unfolding very slowly, to the music of Joseph Canteloube’s “Songs of the Auvergne.” It takes amazing strength and balance to move that way on a trapeze, to find the lines they find together.

The final piece was the newest — “Belmont” — with music by Bach, Lou Harrison and Martijn Hostetler. I haven’t spoken much about the other dancers in the company (Zachary Carroll, Heather Jackson, Margo Yohner, Elizabeth Burden and Holly Shaw), all of whom located the cadences of the classical music and applied them to the steps of skinner/kirk’s choreography with skill. Two things about “Belmont,” though. The modern pieces in the music invited a looseness to the choreography that seemed to liberate everyone concerned. Shoulders rolled and the movement flowed. Portland choreographers? More dances to the music of Lou Harrison, please!

And within the context of the choreography Shaw emerged as a star, perfectly suited to skinner/kirk pieces, primarily because of her clarity as a dancer. All I mean by that is that we knew instinctively where her movement was coming from, where the potential energy was loaded that she converted to dancing, and we could follow as she expended it and then reloaded for the next phrase, which she danced fully and gracefully.

For a deeper account of the skinner/kirk concert, which continues through Februrary 11, I would advise that you go to Bob Hicks’ review on Oregon ArtsWatch.

Shakespeare’s Amazing Cymbeline, Portland Center Stage: Amazing Cymbeline, indeed. Director/adapter Chris Coleman has taken Shakespeare’s script, pared it down to a more comfortable running time and to six actors, and added a piano player, who explains the action in contemporary American English as it all unfolds.

Why do we need a narrator? Because Cymbeline is crazy, that’s why. Charitable critics say that in Cymbeline the Bard felt liberated to “allow poetic effects precedence over the dramatic” (Anthony Holden, “William Shakespeare: The Man Behind the Genius”). What that means is that the villain Iachimo, say, can be both a Roman legionnaire and a Renaissance Italian playboy. That the supposedly noble Posthumous (it’s a joke) can be the worst husband ever. That nutty coincidence reigns. That Shakespeare mashes up his Greatest Hits (King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, As You Like It, Othello and many more) and empties the contents on the stage.

So the piano player helps us sort through all that “poetic imagery.” Good device!

I liked the energy of this Cymbeline, the humor, the doubling and tripling of the characters. Only Kelley Curran as Imogen, one of Shakespeare’s most appealing heroines, plays one character, and she does it with a sure touch through the wacky minefield of the plot. She has to play Desdemona, Juliet and Rosalind, by turns, after all. John San Nicolas, though, gets to play both the wicked Queen and the wicked Iachimo. Juicy!

I could go on (and I did, here), but maybe you’re getting the idea. It’s a good night in the theater, one that will leave you parsing and puzzling and smiling after it’s done. And then there’s a little kicker, because Coleman finds the redemption in Cymbeline, its moment of grace, the way it both begs for forgiveness and offers it.

The Super Bowl isn’t quite so super in comparison.

Shakespeare’s Amazing Cymbeline continues through April 8 in the Ellen Bye Studio at Portland Center Stage.