You can’t keep those BodyVoxers down: like a whack-a-mole or an inflatable punch-me clown, they just keep popping up. About an hour and 38 minutes after landing in Portland at the end of a European tour – all right, it was three full days – there they were again Thursday night on their home stage, ripping through 11 energetic pieces in about two dizzying hours.
And that was just the beginning. BodyVox‘s newest show, “Fifteen,” is a two-parter, with a second program set to open next Thursday. In all, the two programs will include 22 pieces and 13 dancers, all traveling at something close to warp speed. The title is a celebration of the number of years BodyVox has been around, and the organizing principle is retrospective: a fond frolic down memory lane. Except for one new piece – the dreamy, fluid, Razor-scootering “Café Blanco” – all of the pieces are repertory works, going back in Program A as far as 1998 and otherwise concentrating on the years up to 2005.
BodyVox is something of an anomaly in the dance world, quirky and contemporary but outside the mainstream of both the traditional and experimental wings. With a deep affection for circus, mime, vaudeville, and silent film in addition to training in ballet and contemporary-dance techniques, it’s really movement theater – less dancerly than many companies but usually more dancerly than Momix, Pilobolus, and ISO Dance, the companies that artistic directors Ashley Roland and Jamey Hampton worked in before creating BodyVox. BodyVox dances can be serious, but they arrive with a buoyant and deeply American optimism that often bubbles over into outright comedy. The company mines old American pop culture for material, from classic songs and movies to social dances like the Lindy Hop. Costuming, usually designed by Roland, is a witty and extravagant rustle through the Goodwill aisles of a slyly imaginative mind. BodyVox performers are artists, but they’re also unabashed entertainers – they can milk a moment by the overflowing gallons – and while that might put off some serious-minded devotees of high art, it’s also built a legion of enthusiastic and not at all undiscerning fans.
It’s a good thing for artists to look back now and again on what they’ve done in the past, and BodyVox audiences got a sneak peek at the deep past in March’s BodyVox-2 program, which included two ebullient pieces that Hampton and Roland created even before BodyVox was born: 1985’s “Scare Myself” and 1987’s “Psycho Killer.” The current program moves forward from there with 1998’s ebbing and flowing water piece “Rip/Tide” (it actually closes the evening) and includes such favorites as 2005’s diners-gone-wild “Hopper’s Dinner” – set to Tom Waits’ scratchily funny “Tabletop Joe,” and preceded by Jeff George’s solo rendition of Roland’s wall-kicking 2005 “Reservations” – and Eric Skinner’s 2001 “X-Axis,” a taut and lovely bright-red aerial piece for himself and Daniel Kirk, that is somehow tensile and languid at once. Hampton and Roland’s 2002 “Falling for Grace,” in which Hampton, Skinner, and Josh Murry upend a meeting between Kirk and Heather Jackson to a score by Danny Elfman, holds up nicely, while 2001’s “Reverie” seems a little overly cute in retrospect. Hampton is once again a miming virtuoso, riffling his hands through his elbows and fluttering through space, in his 2001 solo “Moto Perpetuo,” which suitably kicks off the program. Few companies are as comfortable with film as BodyVox, and some of the company’s best, including Mitchell Rose’s 2000 “Deere John,” with Hampton mooning and swooning over a giant earth digger, break up the live action.
The company’s continuing high energy and effervescence are all the more impressive considering that its four mainstays – Roland, Hampton, Skinner, Kirk – have been performing for so many years. They’re still working at a high level, and in the past few seasons the company’s reinvigorated itself by adding younger performers like Zachary Carroll, Jonathan Krebs, George, Murry with his yellow flop of young-Baryshnikov hair, and the sassy Jackson, who eagerly digs into many of the ingenue roles. Program A is boy-heavy, with only Roland and Jackson as woman performers. Program B will add several woman dancers to the mix.
On Thursday night I happened to be sitting in front of a longtime BodyVox fan who kept a running commentary going. “I don’t remember this one,” she’d say; “we must’ve missed that show.” Or, “Oh, yes! I love this piece!” Ordinarily I’d have been irritated, but I realized she was genuinely swept into the thing and felt completely at home, in her own way a part of the company. At the end she turned to one of her companions, a BodyVox newcomer, and asked, “Are you glad you came?” “Oh, yes!” her guest replied. “I absolutely loved it!” But no one got closer to the BodyVox spirit, I think, than the little girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, a few seats to the side of me. What I heard from her, over and over, was giggling. Sometimes she was overtaken by giggles, cascading in a torrent of delight. Watch out. That sort of thing can be contagious.
Program A of “Fifteen” repeats on Friday, Saturday, May 16, and in a May 18 matinee. Program B opens on Thursday, May 9, and continues May 10, 11, 17 and in a May 18 evening performance. Performances are at the BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 Northwest 17th Avenue, Portland. Ticket information is here.