On April 8th and 9th, the Abrons Arts Center housed the US debut of the raucous and celebrated Skin Me, by Hungarian choreographer-performers Viktória Dányi, Csaba Molnár, and Zsófia Tamara Vadas. A show that balances itself on the heels of the pendulum swing, Skin Me examines the oscillation between extreme states of being, as these three artists, joined onstage by two musicians, shatter the boundaries of what constitutes performance.
Starting out somewhat classically, the three performers explore movement in triangulation, moving quietly together, then progressing into separate, rapid gesticulation—eventually directing their bodies into interlocked states. Weaving jaunty, almost folklorish dance and graceful eroticism, this movement conveys a combination of delicacy and chaos that is threaded throughout the rest of the piece.
Conventions are broken when the performers introduce a moveable stage upon the stage, where the drummer sits playing glittery drums. The dancers move him front and center, then push him to an upstage corner to alter the sound he creates, commenting on the individual facets that make up a performance. Playing with music, lights, breath, stage, and form, the choreography highlights deconstruction and introduces us to a heightened sense of these singular elements.
As one of the dancers casually takes apart the drummer's drum kit, piece by piece, we are left with only the drummer and this dancer on the stage-within-a-stage, and their breathing, almost a panting, becomes focus. As it synchronizes, we are lulled into another stillness—as this piece continually vacillates between disarray and relaxation. Just as we enter this particular state, the dancer's breathing quickens, becomes louder, and suggests climax, until the rickety stage-upon-a-stage is knocked by the other dancers, and her breathing abruptly and humorously stops.
Existing as duet, there is an emphasis on force, as dancers are moulded, pried into position in minute ways. Harsh adjustments to the head, shoulders, and arms are made, as one dancer shouts statements like “I can't guarantee I will be the person you want me to be” and “I will move to the countryside; the air is much better there.” The most interesting movement in this show includes alternated, individual motions through varying degrees of emotional charge, starting slow and increasing in intensity to near fits, pushing the edge of feeling.
With a mockery of new-age spirituality, a faux introductory dance class, and a simulated, early 2000s-esque, smoky rock video, this group of choreographer-performers is perhaps up to too much. What is extraordinary, though, is the way the overstimulation of the performance is balanced with pattern and ease—that each shift creates a sort of catharsis for the viewer. A study of extreme poles and units, Skin Me is an engaging and entertaining performance, and the Abrons Arts Center is congratulated on bringing it to New York.