Daniel Kirk and Eric Skinner in Flying Over Emptiness

The Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble made a rare debut of work last week. Seeing both tEEth and Skinner/Kirk perform within several days of one another got me excited at how truly diverse Portland’s contemporary dance scene is. Where one (tEEth) is edgy, hinging on absurdity and a certain amount of steady discomfort, the other is balletic and performed with a permanent smile. Maybe the best word I can think of for Skinner/Kirk’s performance last week is “pleasant”; though no doubt it was also awe-inspiring.

Eric Skinner and Daniel Kirk have been dancing together for a long time—since 1989, in some shape or form; they co-founded BodyVox in the late ‘90s. Current members of BodyVox, every now and then they create their own program as the Skinner/Kirk Dance Ensemble. Their work is insanely athletic and demanding, making you marvel at the power and grace of the human body. (Or, at least, of their human bodies.) Watching the duet One, performed by Skinner and Kirk—on a trapeze, no less—and multiple gasps went up throughout the audience, with people whispering, “They’re so strong!”

Although the trailer is epic, the performance is much quieter; it’s a lot more elegant and graceful than it is excitable. The evening is split up into four numbers: One of the strongest is Flying Over Emptiness. A black-and-white video plays behind Skinner and Kirk, who twist and slither around in billow-y shirts. The projection is close-up footage of Mary Oslund, an influential dancer/choreographer of the Pacific Northwest; the piece is meant as a tribute. Out of all the work on display the other night, there’s the most tension in this piece—there’s nostalgia, and a tenderness in their movements, also a bit of desperateness. By contrast, the opening act is Obstacle Allusions, which starts out like an ode to film noir, but doesn’t turn out dark at all. The stage is lit by singular bulbs dangling from the ceiling; there’s a single piano player (Bill Crane). Six dancers slide onstage in suits, ties, and cocktail dresses. It plays out with the dancers circling the bulbs, and then dodging them, like moths flitting in and around a light source.

If you’ve ever seen a BodyVox performance, Skinner/Kirk will be a bit different; it’s not as loose, and there’s a lot more ballet influence, with distinct lines and traditional movements. If you’ve never seen either, you still have four chances to see THIS performance; the physicality and joy that's in the work is worth it. Shows continue this Thursday and run through Saturday. Tickets start at $36.