BodyVox Pearl Dive Live Dance Portland Oregon

An invigoratingly fresh blend: Music and dance at The Reser

BodyVox and Akropolis Reed Quintet dial back to the ‘20s with Chamber Music Northwest concert.

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An invigoratingly fresh blend of dance and music by BodyVox and the Akropolis Reed Quintet celebrated the Roaring Twenties at the brand-new Patricia Reser Center for the Performing Arts on March 19. Playing for an enthusiastic audience that almost filled the newly opened 550-seat hall in Beaverton, the show delightfully covered an era when everything from speakeasies to skyscrapers etched the headlines of newspapers; women got the right to vote; fashion changed dramatically; and art forms like surrealism and jazz acquired a measure of popularity. 

Inventive and witty choreography by artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland directed the nine BodyVox dancers in a series of vignettes that were enhanced outstandingly by lighting designer Mark LaPierre and video designer Alan Cline. Costumes designed by Roland wonderfully evoked an era when flappers pushed against the barriers for women.

Sponsored by Chamber Music Northwest, the Akropolis Reed Quintet accompanied each scene with terrific arrangements of music from the ‘20s. The top-tier wind ensemble–consisting of oboist Tim Gocklin, clarinetist Kari Landry, saxophonist Matt Landry, bass clarinetist Andrew Koeppe, and bassoonist Ryan Reynolds–displayed their virtuosic prowess in a variety of jazz-inflected pieces. 

The show opened with swagger, bodies moving to the pulsating beat of the Foxtrot movement from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No. 1. Flappers and libation-infused admirers cavorted while quotes from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mae West were projected against the back wall. Later in the evening, the Jazz Suite’s Waltz movement underscored a black-and-white film in which Salvatore Bonilla playfully explored the wardrobe of an upper-crust home. 

The most dazzling piece on the program was a tribute to the Empire State Building, with dancers perched on top of a long wooden beam–suggesting the iconic photo of workers sitting on a steel beam high above the cityscape. The dancers wore blue coveralls while displaying acrobatic moves to Francis Poulenc’s “Les Biches.” Then they shed their work clothes to reveal golden outfits and shimmied to the upbeat swing of Irving Berlin’s “Blue Skies.” Amazing!

'Lunch atop a skyscraper' by Charles C. Ebbets.
‘Lunch atop a skyscraper’ by Charles C. Ebbets.

In a long, white dress, BodyVox dancer Andrea Parson kicked off a homage to the women’s suffrage movement, with music from Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. She was joined by her colleagues in a reflective set in which the men used hand-held lamps to manipulate the women like marionettes–until the women got the upper hand. The hypnotic music of Satie’s “Gnossienne, No. 1”–followed by his light waltz “Je Te Vieux” (I Want You)–matched perfectly with the dancers.

Starting with the green apple from René Magritte’s Son of Man painting in the background, the dance ensemble created unusual formations that suggested the surreal movement. One segment projected a dancer to the back wall and then warped her movements and even the floor in an undulating pattern. In another scene the dancers assembled themselves into a Leaning Tower of Pisa. During these segments the musicians played Splinter, a delightful work written by Marc Mellits in 2020. 

In the Speak Easy Dance Wild segment, we were treated to a carousing party scene in which outlier Bonilla was repeatedly tossed off the premises while Matt Landry played Scott Joplin’s famous ragtime number, “Solace,” on an upright piano. The carousing hit a pause when the piano player was shot–only to be replaced by one of the dancers who continued the piece. But then the sound effects man, Jamey Hampton was plunked, and the police came, ending the fun. 

A nod to art deco was accompanied by a playful arrangement of George Gershwin’s “First Piano Prelude.” Guys and gals wearing outfits splashed with newsprint frolicked to Gershwin’s bluesy “Second Piano Prelude,” and Skye Stouber held court solo with the “Third Piano Prelude.”

In the Beauty and the Boss vignette, Stouber duetted expertly with Theresa Hanson while the quintet jazzed it up with Duke Ellington’s “East Saint Louis Toodle-Oo.” 

The performance concluded with Le Fin Commence and the quintet piping an arrangement of Gershwin’s American in Paris. It was a grand way to bring the evening to a close, and Skye Stouber was honored with a bouquet of flowers because this was his final performance with the company.

If BodyVox and the Akropolis Reed Quintet can team up for this much fun with the Roaring ‘20s, think of what they could do with another decade like the ‘60s! There are numerous arrangements of tunes by the Beatles, the Stones, Jimi Hendrix and others that would be a blast to hear–perhaps something like Imani Winds composer Jeff Scott’s Fantasy on 1967–with the dance company sporting bellbottoms, tie dyes, and platform shoes. Groovy!

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James Bash enjoys writing for The Oregonian, The Columbian, Classical Voice North America, Opera, and many other publications. He has also written articles for the Oregon Arts Commission and the Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd edition. He received a fellowship to the 2008 NEA Journalism Institute for Classical Music and Opera, and is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America.

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