The house was packed Thursday evening for the opening of BodyVox-2’s weekend run of new and revived pieces, and the eagerness of the crowd suggested the growing conviction among Portland dance followers that this is no ordinary apprentice company.
What is it, then?
“We’re really trying to figure that out,” a pleased Una Loughran, the company’s general manager, said after Thursday’s performance at the BodyVox Dance Center. “It’s an evolving thing. When we started it we thought it was a two-year program. It’s obviously moved far beyond that.”
One thing it is, as this short run of performances through Saturday illustrates, is a tight ensemble of skilled performers capable of pulling off a polished and fully satisfying evening of varied short works. The company’s six members – Jeff George, Samuel Hobbs, Anna Marra, Josh Murry, Holly Shaw and Katie Staszkow – are young but not beginners, and they’ve developed the kind of well-practiced teamwork that allows them to relax and let their individual personalities also come across. Directed by main-company dancer Zachary Carroll, they’re at ease in the BodyVox style, which requires a playful and dramatic blend of acting and dancing skills, plus a taste for quirkiness and vaudevillian physical surprise. And they’re adaptable: the current show features premieres of works by four choreographers, and also dips into the repertory as far back as 1985, or before some of the performers were born.
They’re also very much part of the present of the main BodyVox company, and they could be a very big part of its future. The BodyVox-2 dancers do a lot of the company’s school performances and residencies – a bread-and-butter task for a company like this – and they’re showing up increasingly onstage in the main company’s shows, too. This injects a shot of youth into what is a company of veterans, and it also expands the palette for BodyVox choreographers, allowing them to do bigger works with more dancers. More and more, BodyVox-2 is both an essential element of the main company and its own thing: like Nederlands Dans Theater 2 and Joffrey II, it’s developing its own following and identity.
Because of external events, the signal work among the four new pieces is Anne Mueller’s “Tuesday, 3:47 p.m.,” a witty, swift and prop-laden (table, chairs, giant water pitchers) short dance that blends contemporary pop motifs with a ballet sensibility. Mueller, a former longtime Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer, took over as OBT’s interim artistic director after Christopher Stowell’s surprise resignation late last year, and people inevitably will be reading “Tuesday, 3:47 p.m.” like tea leaves in an effort to see what she might be thinking about for OBT. That’s not really fair – she choreographed this piece specifically for BodyVox-2, not for OBT, and it’s not a ballet, it’s a contemporary dance. Still, it has an airy feel, with both fluidity and grace, and a sense of humor, and a penchant for visual storytelling: the props and situations brought to mind some of the work Robin Lane has done with Do Jump! It’s a savvy, well-shaped piece: I liked it.
The other three new dances are closer to home: co-founder Jamey Hampton’s “Alter,” a tightly knit showcase for Murry and Shaw; veteran BodyVox dancer Eric Skinner’s “Feeling Unknown,” performed to music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross by the second company’s three women dancers; and “I Asked of You,” by onetime BodyVox-2 performer Eowyn Emerald Barrett, an intricate and yearning piece for all six dancers performed to Max Richter’s contemporary reconception of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” All three have polish, substance and spark. They know the dancers and the company style, even though they pull in different directions, from extreme physicality to coquetry to emotional tugging.
What comes across best in this program is how well the old and the new have become integrated, each bringing its own strengths to create a broader scope of possibilities. Suddenly, BodyVox feels like an institution in the best sense of the word: an organization capable of growing and evolving and regenerating itself. So maybe it’s fitting that both acts end with short pieces from the 1980s, before BodyVox existed, when Hampton and co-founder Ashley Roland were performing with ISO. In 1985’s “Scare Myself,” which Roland and Hampton danced around the world, George and Marra nimbly carry on the tradition. Presented in a puff of stage fog, it’s a witty crowd-pleaser, and a period piece within a period piece: when it was new it was already nostalgic for the social dance of the 1950s; now it’s nostalgic one more step removed. That makes it, again in the best sense of the word, charming.
Nineteen-eighty-seven’s “Psycho Killer,” created by Hampton, Roland, Daniel Ezralow and Morleigh Steinberg, comes from a similar place of puckish period theatricality, once again with stage fog (was this when steampunk started rolling?) and over-the-top whimsy. Performing to The Bobs’ bouncing rendition of the David Byrne tune, George, Murry, Shaw and Staszkow operate like a four-piston engine, conjoined at the ankles and bobbing, bouncing and bopping to the rhythm. It’s all a bit like following the bouncing ball in an old-time drive-in movie cartoon. It’s quite terrific to be reminded of what BodyVox came out of, how much of that original impulse has been retained and how much has been toned down, and how well a new generation can step into the old shoes and recapture some of the magic, even as they continue to explore their own variations on the BodyVox theme.
A good, smart program, all in all – and a promise of what’s yet to come.
- BodyVox-2’s spring program concludes with performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday (March 8) and at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday (March 9). Tickets are tight; information here.
- Choreographer Barrett is planning to take a program of her work to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a six-day run in August, and it’ll have a BodyVox flavor, with Murry, Shaw, main-company dancer Jonathan Krebs and Barrett performing, and BodyVox technical director James Mapes along to run the lights.
- Jamuna Chiarini wrote for ArtsWatch about the rehearsal process for three of the program’s four new pieces. Read her interviews with Mueller, Skinner, and Barrett.