BodyVox’s ‘Lexicon’: New expression through tech

BodyVox launched its 20th anniversary season with 'Lexicon," a deep marriage of movement and tech

By HEATHER WISNER

Tech has partnered with dance for years, often to thrilling effect, from the otherworldly motion-capture images generated in Merce Cunningham’s Biped to the wireless heart monitor attached to a bare-chested Baryshnikov in Heartbeat: mb. So it follows that BodyVox—which has a long history of multimedia performance, particularly with collaborator/filmmaker Mitchell Rose—would eventually build a show around a tech theme.

That show is Lexicon, which opened the company’s 20th anniversary season last night in the company’s Northwest Portland dance studio. Lexicon is a suite of dances infused with a variety of tech, from green screen and animation to cell phones and video gaming. BodyVox’s high-level collaborators in this endeavor include Boxtrolls animator Mike Smith and FoxTrax programmer Wade Olsen. (The production as a whole makes Deere John, company co-founder Jamey Hampton’s lovesick duet with a tractor, which was part of the entry that won the American Choreography Award for Outstanding Achievement in Short Film in 2002, seem positively archaic from a mechanical standpoint.)

BodyVox kicked off its 20th anniversary season with “Lexicon,” a multi-media extravaganza./Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Hampton and co-founder Ashley Roland don’t appear onstage in this show; their focus has been creating its choreography—and additionally for Roland, its costumes—but various combinations of the company’s eight dancers carry out their vision. (Roland and Hampton do make an appearance in Icons, a short film Rose shot of them dressed as the black cutout figures on public signage for restrooms and the like. Though not as tech-y as some of the program, it’s an entertaining vision of what could happen if those figures came to life.)

Lexicon’s best pieces make you wonder why you haven’t seen another dance company play around with a particular bit of tech before, and what other possibilities remain. Among these is Roland’s Figments, set to a jaunty piece of music by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh: To the left of the stage is a green screen: the dancers, wearing hooded unitards made from green fabric down one half of the body and black fabric down the other half, dance from left to right in front of the screen, alone or in groups: their movement is projected onto a second screen at the right. Because fully half of their bodies don’t register, they appear as odd, single-limbed characters executing all kinds of funny and physically improbable feats.

BodyVox’s “Lexicon”/photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Viewers warmed to two interactive pieces on the program as well. In Open Line, set to music by Bebel Gilberto, Jeff George and Alicia Cutaia dance a samba-like duet as the remaining dancers, armed with cell phones and dancing simple patterns, chat with viewers, who can call the numbers flashing on the screen at the back of the stage. Viewers who don’t call are treated to half-overheard snippets of conversation. (From last night’s show: “Oh, you got front-row seats? That’s cool.” “Right now? Oh, just dancing. Um, yeah—it’s really distracting.”) Lexicon’s closing piece, Beta Stage, also requires audience participation. Without giving too much away, it involves a game of laser tag, although viewers don’t actually leave their seats to play; the dancers, wearing vests equipped with sensors, do most of the work.

BodyVox’s “Lexicon”/photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

There are drawbacks to a theme like this, mainly that what lingers in the mind after the show is less the dance than the tech. But there are benefits, too: given the interactive components, no two shows will be identical. And as tech changes over time, there is room to revisit its artistic potential as partner that can amplify the voice of dance.

NOTE

Lexicon runs through Dec. 16 at BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Avenue; for tickets and more information are available on the company’s website.

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