Ballet Hispanico, Photo: Paula Lobo
Ballet Hispanico, Photo: Paula Lobo

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A Postcard From Bryn Cohn + Artists

A Postcard From Bryn Cohn + Artists

Published on July 14, 2015
Jaqi Medlock

On the Company's Premiere of "Skin"

Bryn Cohn + Artists, a diverse contemporary dance company whose imaginative vision creates risk-taking and emotionally penetrating works, recently premiered their most ambitious work to date, Skin, at Danspace Project in St. Marks Church in-the-Bowery on June 25th – June 27th.

Skin is rooted in the concept of how an identity is formed, reinforced, and reinvented over time. Six mannequins alongside six performers, occupy the space as voyeurs, observing the entire performance but lacking the ability to participate.


When I first began this process nine months ago, it became evident that the fabric of the work would originate from the dancers and their responses to their own identities: the social attitudes, histories, and ideologies that congeal to form who they are. I began to dissect the layers of their humanity from physical and psychological vantage points.

During rehearsals, the concept of the tabula rasa continued to be a driving force as a counterpoint to the rigor, vulnerability, and vitality that emanated from each of my dancers. When I look at my dancers, I recognize everything from their facial features, hair, freckles and body structure, to the way they laugh or cry.  These are outward illuminations of the years of experience that have made them individuals. While the mannequins share a similar anatomical structure,  they are void of the ability to express or consume—providing a provocative counterpoint to the raw emotion that charges every moment of this work.

In everyday culture, we glorify the notion of physical perfection and mannequins serve as an emblem for that. Skin, and furthermore our company, celebrates our dissimilarities and uniqueness as a mechanism to strip away fabrication. The goal is to find us bare in our purest form, to reveal a sacred reality about ourselves in conflict and harmony with our world.

A woman in a billowy blouse faces a mannequin as she stands on her tip toes
Photo: Jaqi Medlock

When Skin begins, we see only the dancer and the mannequin, one animate and one stoic. Their journey commences as we investigate what makes the human different from the mannequin and why. Throughout the work, the performers cultivate their own identities in juxtaposition to the empty and emotionless physical forms. The dancers examine, assemble, destroy, and manipulate them to consistently “check in” that they are indeed not the same.

Dancers lay on their back as another male dancer in white strikes a standing pose with his fingers splayed
Photo: Jaqi Medlock

While both human and mannequins are vessels, one maintains a hard, impenetrable shell and the other maintains skin, permeable and porous. Skin itself became an outward vehicle to detect diversity, intimacy, authenticity and connection. When I see skin, I see life, energy, narrative, relationship and all of the beautiful and multifaceted experiences that make us who we are.

Two men lift a woman overhead like a stiff plank
Photo: Jaqi Medlock

The stark whiteness of the mannequins, against the wide-ranging color tones of my dancers bodies, illuminates a visual differentiation that I find to be exquisite and a potent statement. As the work advances and the performers shed their costumes ( a means of getting closer towards  their most genuine selves) they clad the mannequins with their numerous layers of garments. The mannequins end covered in the dancers’ clothing, becoming a literal and metaphorical melting pot of various personas and identities along their path of self-realization. The mannequins become what they truly are, receptacles and slates to carry all that the human can encompass.

Each dancer gestures to their mannequin counterpart; their backs are towards the audience
Photo: Jaqi Medlock

As a dancemaker, pushing boundaries in every capacity and challenging the constructs upon which we perceive and understand everyday recognizable action is what guides me.

Millions of mannequins stand in stores throughout our world and we rarely question them or their function. We do not think about their gender, bodies or idealized appearance, nor do we think about them in relationship to ourselves. Through Skin, we use the mannequins as a mirror, to comment on political and social convention, and as a mechanism, to seek the ultimate truth of what it means to live in our own skin.

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