Portland Opera The Snowy Day Newmark Theatre Portland Oregon

Dance preview: BodyVox’s Death and Delight scramble

A dancer's injury at BodyVox leads to a cascade of role changes in the company's Shakespeare double bill.


Last weekend, BodyVox dancer Andrés Peraza, took a blow to the head towards the end of a performance of BodyVox’s spooktacular Halloween show, BloodyVox, in Hood River. Peraza suffered a concussion. The why and the how it all happened is not entirely clear, but it’s always a risk taking shows on the road: as Elizabeth Miller, BodyVox’s Audience Engagement director told me,  you never know what the stages will look like on the road and how much space you will have to dance in.

“We had to restructure a lot of the pieces…and unfortunately someone’s knee or foot extended beyond the new spacing,” she said.

Sadly, this means that Andrés will not be able to perform in Death and Delight, BodyVox’s double Shakespeare bill of Romeo and Juliet (set to Sergei Prokofiev’s dramatic Romeo and Juliet Suite) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, (danced to Felix Mendelssohn’s theatrically descriptive score). The show opens Thursday and runs for three weeks, November 7-23, at BodyVox. But don’t worry, according to BodyVox artistic director Jamey Hampton, the entire cast has rallied together and the show is looking wonderful. 

Peraza, who is a native Oregonian and a graduate of the Arts and Communication Magnet Academy (ACMA) in Beaverton, was set to dance the part of Benvolio, Romeo’s cousin in Romeo and Juliet, and Bottom, the donkey-headed comic relief in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He’ll  rejoin the production for its last two weeks. 

The role of Benvolio, typically a male part, will now be danced by junior company member Jenelle Gaerlan. Bottom will be danced by guest dancer Jake Gordon, and company dancer Brent Lubbert, originally cast as Bottom, will be jumping into the role of Helena, one of the lovers and female protagonists in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s dancer superhero time as all three of these dancers have to learn new choreography for two, 45-minute acts in just three days. Actually the whole cast has to readjust. New company members Theresa Hanson and guest artist DarVejon Jones will also be joining the production.

Juliet held aloft by her fellow dancers in a dress rehearsal of Bodyvox’s Death and Delight. Photo by Blaine Covert.

While it’s definitely tough being an injured dancer and having to sit on the sidelines watching someone else dance your coveted, hard-earned role, the situation does provide opportunities to develop other skills. In this case, Peraza has stepped into the assistant rehearsal director role and is helping his cohorts adjust to the changes and learn his roles, Miller said.

Originally premiering in 2016 as a collaboration with Chamber Music Northwest, this minimalist take on two of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, involves 10 dancers and a solo piano on stage. Choreographers Roland and Hampton have chosen to tell both stories in their entirety, but in a very BodyVox-specific way. 

What does that mean? Well, I think ArtsWatch senior editor Bob Hicks, who has followed BodyVox’s work for a long time, said it best when he described the company as “something of an anomaly in the dance world, quirky and contemporary but outside the mainstream of both the traditional and experimental wings.” He continued: “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.” You can read his full story here.

BodyVox artistic directors Ashley Roland as Juliet’s nurse and Jamey Hampton as Friar Lawrence in the BodyVox remake of Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Blaine Covert.

In BodyVox’s Romeo and Juliet, the romantic tragedy of star-crossed lovers, there are 11 chapters. At the beginning of each section, a line of text from the play will be projected on the scrim behind the dancers to help the audience locate where they are chronologically in the story. The costumes have been designed by Roland who has color coded each family, the Montagues and the Capulets, with Romeo and Juliet wearing a combination of the two colors. 

If you are trying to “read” the play through the dance, it’s important to note that because words aren’t used to explain what’s going on, the play’s narrative is carried by the dance, the music, the sets, costumes, and lights. The story of Romeo and Juliet is embedded in the dance, and it’s up to you to discover it. It’s all there. 

The dancers, in addition to dancing their individual characters, also act as a kind of Greek chorus at times taking the physical shape of the famous balcony, stairs, and an altar. The choreography takes many shapes and patterns, ignores gender roles, and feels like baroque dance at times and a bit country fair at other times. 

The mischievous fairies in BodyVox’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo by Michael Shay/Polara Studio.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in contrast, is an updated, gender-bending, completely nutty comedy, consisting of four interconnecting plots, connected by the wedding celebration of the Duke Theseus of Athens and the Amazon Queen Hippolyta.  Simultaneously, in the woods and under the moon, four lovers are led on a merry chase by spirited hip-hop fairies, with music performed by pianists Susan Smith and Yoko Green from November 7, 9 – 23 and Western-Li Summerton on November 8th.

As it happens in real life, Death and Delight will take you on an emotional roller coaster, dropping you down into the deepest depths of despair and lifting you back up with absurdist humor. Shakespeare was an expert at drawing our attention to the chaotic absurdity and the unpredictability of life, and BodyVox’s choreographers Roland and Hampton are pretty good at it, too. 

Death and Delight runs from November 7-23 at the BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 N.W. 17th Ave. For tickets and more information click here

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Jamuna Chiarini is a dance artist, producer, curator, and writer, who produces DanceWatch Weekly for Oregon ArtsWatch. Originally from Berkeley, Calif., she studied dance at The School of The Hartford Ballet and Florida State University. She has also trained in Bharatanatyam and is currently studying Odissi. She has performed professionally throughout the United States as a dancer, singer, and actor for dance companies, operas, and in musical theatre productions. Choreography credits include ballets for operas and Kalamandir Dance Company. She received a Regional Arts & Culture Council project grant to create a 30-minute trio called “The Kitchen Sink,” which was performed in November 2017, and was invited to be part of Shawl-Anderson’s Dance Up Close/East Bay in Berkeley, Calif. Jamuna was a scholarship recipient to the Urban Bush Women’s Summer Leadership Institute, “Undoing Racism,” and was a two-year member of CORPUS, a mentoring program directed by Linda K. Johnson. As a producer, she is the co-founder of Co/Mission in Portland, Ore., with Suzanne Chi, a performance project that shifts the paradigm of who initiates the creation process of new choreography by bringing the artistic vision into the hands of the dance performer. She is also the founder of The Outlet Dance Project in Hamilton, N.J.

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