Sarah Skaggs aims at nothing less than creating a new breed of dancer and a new breed of dance. The members of her company range from a tall, nearly bald African-American woman to an equally androgynous Asian man. Her dancers perform in venues as diverse as a town square in Prague and a New York City high school gymnasium. They dance to musical selections from groups as disparate as the Balanescu Quartet and Nirvana. Skaggs's ambition is global, her taste eclectic, her sense of audience inclusive.
In Folked Up!, her most recent work, the thirty-seven-year-old Virginia native takes the folk dances she learned during sojourns in Hong Kong and Prague, mates them with her own fierce choreographic style and lets the hybrid flourish through the interpretations of each dancer. In the core piece, a duet between a black woman performing an African dance and a blond man doing a Scottish number, the dancers watch each other, then try each other's movements on, transforming them in the process. Skaggs describes Folked Up! as "a documentary dance performance." She and her company are performing it at the Joyce Theater in New York this winter before taking it on tour.
The ultimate goal, Skaggs says, is to use the vernacular forms she favors to divest modern dance of its elitism. Her dream venue is the sort of place appropriate for a rock concert. "Kids could come who thought they would never go see modern dance," she says, poised to be the purveyor of a new, populist American dance. "Those are the audiences who are going to be supporting the arts in America."