Oregon Cultural Trust

Dance Review: ‘Beautiful Everything’

BodyVox’s collaboration with Imani Winds is a whimsical and visual spectacle that delighted fans, but missed synergistic opportunities amid the fun.

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BodyVox dancers in "Beautiful Everything." Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert
BodyVox dancers in “Beautiful Everything.” Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

I’ll admit that I had little precedent for what I could expect from BodyVox’s performance at the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts over the weekend of April 19-21. As a transplant going on eight years in Oregon, with just four of those spent in Portland proper, certain institutions had eluded me until only recently. I feel neither shame nor hesitation in the confession, nor in the fact that my previous exposure to BodyVox had been primarily limited to its grand facility on the corner of NW 17th and Northrup Street in Portland. 

The vast and varied amount of class programming BodyVox hosts in its facility each week, combined with in-house performances by its company of seven dancers ensures that BodyVox stands as an undeniable fixture in the Portland dance community. 

That being said, little gives hints to the kind of movement that awaits their audiences. Glimpses are only found in the photos of dancers hanging in their lobby, the whimsical titles of their productions, and Co-Artistic Director Jamey Hampton’s history with Pilobolus and as an original member of MOMIX, two companies known for their overtly playful approach.

Enter Beautiful Everything, another collaboration with Chamber Music Northwest stacked atop dozens that Hampton admitted were too numerous to count with exactitude. The performance featured The Imani Winds, a three-time Grammy nominated ensemble and most recent Grammy winner in the Classical Compendium category. Over the course of the evening, the ensemble and local pianist Yoko Greeney found themselves in the upstage left corner playing music by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, John Adams, Chick Corea, Brian Eno, Debussy, and Philip Glass as BodyVox’s dancers frolicked around props and small naturalistic set pieces. 

Beautiful Everything swept us along the journey of our evolution into this universe while seeking to combine comedy with the beauty of the natural world. Large capitalized title cards projected onto the cyc introduced our four sections: “Genesis”, “Flora”, “Fauna”, and “Humanum.” These title cards were often accompanied by videos of animals or scenic images that served as establishing backdrops for the whimsy and visual spectacle created by the company clad in Co-Artistic Director Ashley Roland’s elaborate and eccentric costuming. Dancers were draped with translucent pleats à la Issey Miyake, adorned in plumed pantaloons, or dressed in unitards speckled with masses that obscured the dancers’ forms into clusters of “asteroids.” 

For a collaboration, The Imani Winds felt tucked and shrouded in the upstage corner, and I craved more interaction than accompaniment. I was given only a short reprieve in the final act “Humanum”. The ensemble held the entirety of the performance space and graced us with “Rise for Wind Quartet,” a lively work by Composer Shawn E. Okpebholo, before weaving amongst dancer-choreographed solos in “(R)evolution.” Collaboration between music and dance always has the potential to extend far beyond a your-side-my-side approach, and the final piece presented a glimmer of how this can prove dynamic and enthralling without compromising either art form. With Beautiful Everything proudly announcing its collaboration with the wind ensemble, my one expectation was that the bulk of the performance would be more akin to its finale, and felt disappointment when it was not. 

However, I understood a few minutes into the performance that I was not the audience for Beautiful Everything. Its sense of humor was one that misaligned with my own, and I am biased against too many narrative-driven elements in multimedia performances. Costumes, movement, video projection, and musical composition that all tell their own stories can feel crowded on the same stage, and I found myself in a plethora of distractions that each craved focus.

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That being said, these feel like shallow criticisms. In a show oriented towards the “silly,” what kind of reflection does “I didn’t think it was funny” inspire, if any? So I arrived at a thesis: how does one critique whimsy? 

“An odd or fanciful notion” seemed an appropriate descriptor for the work presented on that stage, and really without negative connotation. There was no shortage of laughs in the house on that Sunday, ranging from a chuckle to a full-hearted belly laugh. Clearly BodyVox has found a niche of dedicated fans and donors who appreciate and delight in their visual play. 

As soon as I understood that I was not the audience for the work, I also understood that my approach as a critic was in question. When faced with pieces that are composed with the intention to simply entertain, and to generate a laugh where they know they will find one, what is there for me to offer? To offer commentary on the authenticity of a performance feels odd when the dancers are presenting caricatures of dying flies, as featured in “Flora,” and suggestions on timing or continuity fall short when the company are asteroid masses bounding about the stage in “Blasteroids.” The purpose of a review, and the purpose of the reviewer, is then brought into question, and it suddenly becomes easy to see how my position could be seen as worth more to market a work rather than remark on it. 

In the description for Beautiful Everything, poetically shortened to BE, Hampton and Roland state: “BE pulls back the veil of negativity that obfuscates the true nature of beauty as a choice. It is a manifesto in movement that resists polarization, violence, and negativity. Like Impossible is Nothing or Think Different, BE is inclusive, vast and intimate.”

Bold statements made for a work that delights in its own delight, and while I see the vision of a world in which polarization is resisted, it is not the one that humans currently find themselves in. I then ask if my position becomes that of an advocate for realism amidst fanciful ideology? 

Having spent a majority of my life in and out of not only dance spaces, but visual arts, music, and academia, critique has always played a vital role. I have never understood it as publicity, or the degradation of a work, but as a voice from beyond my brain to deliver perspectives that may or may not come to me naturally. It is, like any tool, only useful when set to an intended goal, and can be discarded or set aside whenever found inapplicable by the party being commented on. Maybe in this understanding will I find solace in my existential question as a critic. That the purpose is not to have only the right words; or the most marketable; or the most worldly. But instead to give permission to discourse by example, and simply say them.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Lindsay Dreyer is a dance artist, writer, and administrator from Orange County, CA. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Dance from the University of Oregon, where she published her thesis, Concurrence: Dance and Music in the Twenty-First Century, regarding the choreomusical relationships seen in Post-Postmodern Dance. Dreyer has been a guest performer with Harmonic Laboratory and Company Movimiento, and performed in collaborations with Eugene Ballet. Since moving to Portland in 2020, she has performed works by numerous Portland-based choreographers including Graham Cole, Carlyn Hudson, Jessica Zoller, Adriana Audoma, and Laura Cannon. She also presented work for the Portland Jazz Composer Ensemble’s Improv Summit in 2022 with cellist Alexis Mahler, and is currently a company dancer with The Holding Project. Dreyer’s artistic practices are founded in a multi-media approach to collaboration.

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One Response

  1. Perhaps beauty is enough….. particularly in times like this. I admire Ɓodyvox as a rich visual , sound experience , along with highly skilled dance and choreography ~● thank you Jamey and Ashley ♡

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