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Review: SKIN at 1532

Review from Bristol 24/7:

Last weekend, 1532 Performing Arts Centre was host to the touring show Skin by 201 Dance Company, choreographed by founder Andrea Walker. Described by The Guardian as “taking hip-hop into thrillingly new terrain”, Skin explores a powerful story of gender transition through urban dance. I took along someone who had never seen professional contemporary or street dance, and this was quite an inauguration.

The seven-strong troupe wasted no time in getting to the gritty break beats – the opening piece was certainly an introduction to the power and emotion we were about to witness.

Our lead dancer, strong and quick in her athletic mix of upper-body popping and contemporary dance, pauses to cautiously eye a slinky black dress hanging at a distance, suggesting questions about gender identity and cultural norms for a female sporting a beanie, t-shirt and baggy trousers. She changes into it on stage. A diamond bracelet is added, and the hat reluctantly comes off. All of this is observed by a child, dressed in the same hat, t-shirt and trousers.

A cis-female dancer in a white dress and heels appears. I am going to call her our beauty. Through an aesthetic hand dance, like a vogue version of tutting, she admonishes the child for her clothes, making her change into a less comfortable matching white dress. The beauty in white applies lipstick to the child, to a roar of music.

The next piece is extremely poignant, with the two leads dancing the same choreography under independent spotlights, one certainly giving it a more pained translation than the other. The speed of their on-the-spot dances increase as the beats increase – and it’s spine-tingling.

Patrick Collier’s stage direction throughout is splendid. The four troupe dancers help convey the discomfort of our lead with popping and grime, sometimes in a street dance version of the thousand-arm dance, executed excellently. The overall affect is simultaneously anxiety-inducing and beautiful.

The gender transitioning lead is played by Michaela Cisarikova, whose movement is brilliantly enhanced by verbal ‘tsks’ with every body shift. That method, combined with lots of pained athleticism, really portrays something inside trying to get out.

Many pitch shifts and style changes are unsettling for the audience, on purpose I assume. The lead goes from exasperated to naked in one of these shifts. The little girl reappears, removing the black dress from stage, bringing back her friend’s more comfortable clothes as the music relaxes to a more soothing violin, the audience relaxing along with it. They sit and remove their make-up and the beanie is rightfully replaced. Our lead is still, and content.

However, the stillness is short-lived. The beauty and the company reappear in backlit silhouettes. The choreography to pounding beats is haunting – we’re scared for our lead. His message is clear: ‘leave me the f*** alone’.

Slowly our lead and the beauty embrace. The company react to this shift, impressively slowing to an elegant break beat. In a bizarre twist, the child arrives to paint white faces on the back of black balaclavas of the company. The child is back in her beanie, and the two sit and watch the white faces perform in backlit silhouette letting the light frame each limb.

It’s a clever and emotive ending to what has been a superb example of contemporary hip hop and the power that the genre holds. I hope to see more from Andrea Walker and 201 Dance Company in the future, and certainly hope to see more dance scheduled at this fabulous venue.

Skin tours nationwide until November 1.

For more shows at 1532 Performing Arts Centre, visit