Dance review: A BodyVox Halloween

The Portland contemporary dance company gets spooky—and silly—with "BloodyVox," its seasonal splurge of the macabre.

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For most dancers, the laws of physics are restrictions to be observed. For BodyVox, they are inconveniences to be ignored. With mischievous glee, the contemporary dance company defies the boundaries of flexibility and gravity, pushing its dancers to kinetic heights that sometimes look triumphantly impossible.

That spirit of defiance burns through the 2021 edition of BloodyVox, BodyVox’s Halloween extravaganza. A marquee advertisement might read, “Life! Death! Dancing on walls! And werewolves!” It’s maximalist entertainment—and one of the most charming and astounding performances of the season.

Gentlecreatures, we have liftoff: BodyVox’s “BloodyVox.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

BloodyVox is divided into 15 dance pieces, most of which were choreographed by artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland. A few have moments of genuine horror—in The Undertaking, the dancers walk through a graveyard at a mesmerizingly funereal pace—but the show mostly settles into a playful groove.

Founded in 1997 by Hampton and Roland, who are married, BodyVox takes a remarkably unpretentious approach to contemporary dance. It’s an attitude personified by the BloodyVox piece Nightmare on Northrup, in which Hampton and Roland set out to make themselves look as entertainingly ridiculous as possible.

In Nightmare on Northrup—the title is likely a cheeky nod to BodyVox’s location, the corner of NW 17th and Northrup—Hampton and Roland play hapless characters taunted by mostly unseen menaces. Their journey culminates with projections being used to make it look like the theater has been turned on its side, a vertigo-inducing spectacle that is at once awe-inspiring and hysterical.

Ashley Roland climbs the walls as Captain Tenacity. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

The physical adventurousness continues in Captain Tenacity, which Roland choreographed and performs. Wearing a Captain America-style costume, she dashes across the stage, repeatedly scaling a Velcro-covered wall. The pièce de resistance? She flips upside down and lands on the wall, her hand frozen in a salute.

While Captain Tenacity is recognizably human—or rather, superhuman—many of the dancers use their bodies to become animals. They transform into fish, crickets and, in one instance, a crow with dark, shiny wings that flap so gracefully they seem to be made of liquid. It’s as if the performers are trying to escape not only from the confines of their bodies, but of their species.

There’s a radical ebullience to these evolutions. In BloodyVox, nothing is truly monstrous or “other”; even the werewolves who attack campers in the piece First Bite seem less like killers than folks in search of kinky fun. It’s a humanist vision that goes beyond humanity.

A macabre midnight frolic: It’s a grave situation. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

One of the oddest parts of BloodyVox is Lockdown, a short film that riffs on the indignities of quarantine by putting its Covid-concerned characters in orange, prison-style jumpsuits. It’s a rare moment where the performance’s whimsy feels forced: As much as I enjoy perverse humor, personally, I’m not ready to laugh about social distancing and other post-pandemic rituals yet.

That, however, is a relatively minor gripe. BloodyVox is a series of joyous inventions—I wish I had time to gush over the singing mummies—that leave your soul soaring and your funny bone tingling. In most years, it would be wondrous. After the past year and a half, it’s a godsend.

***

  • “BloodyVox” opened Thursday evening at BodyVox Dance Center and concludes with performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 29, and at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30. Tickets and scheduling information here.

About the author

Bennett Campbell Ferguson is a Portland-based arts journalist. In addition to writing for Oregon Arts Watch, he writes about plays and movies for Willamette Week and is the editor in chief of the blog and podcast T.H.O. Movie Reviews. He first tried his hand at journalism when he was 13 years old and decided to start reviewing science fiction and fantasy movies – a hobby that, over the course of a decade, expanded into a passion for writing about the arts to engage, entertain, and, above, spark conversation. Bennett is also a graduate of Portland State University (where he studied film) and the University of Oregon (where he studied journalism).

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