alan vogel

BodyVox opened the Washington
Park Summer Festival

With warm summer temperatures at last arriving in Oregon, a bumper crop of free outdoor shows provide a splendid way to combine two of the state’s greatest assets: verdant summers and vibrant music. On Saturday, the esteemed conductor Keith Clark leads a concert version of Johann Strauss’s popular comic opera The Bat (Die Fledermaus) at Washington Park Amphitheater this Saturday and at Concordia college next Saturday. The great locally based Metropolitan Opera baritone Richard Zeller headlines the cast in this tenth anniversary production of Portland SummerFest opera in the park.

This Saturday’s performance is part of the family-friendly annual Washington Park Summer Festival, which on Sunday hosts the Portland Festival Symphony’s annual free concert (which happens in other parks in and around Portland all month), led by the venerable conductor Lajos Balogh for the past 32 years. They’ll be playing music by Haydn, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky (boom!), and more.

The Washington Park series opened Thursday night with a performance by Portland’s popular BodyVox dance group, who kicked it off with a precisely timed, characteristically merry performance by a coverall-clad quartet (with feet tied together by orange tape), set to the Bobs’ characteristically jolly version of Talking Heads’ early hit “Psycho Killer.” Reverie, a `lovely version of the famous flower duet from Leo Delibes’ opera Lakme, featuring lovely costumes designed by Portland’s celebrated Michael Curry reminded me a bit of Imago Theater’s nature-oriented moves. Another slapsticky quartet, Usual Suspects, opened with klezmer style music by the inimitable Portland ensemble 3 Leg Torso and butt-to-butt bumpiness, then followed with a Chopin nocturne. Given the distant seats and profusion of kids, subtle moves would have been lost, so the group wisely relied on expertly executed sight gags, sometimes obscured from certain angles because of huge speakers mounted at the front of the stage; the sound was plenty loud, so it might have been better to place them at the back of the stage instead.

The second half featured a Bollywood number with a couple of intruders in Western outfits disrupting an Indian film production dance and several dances familiar from earlier BodyVox performances involving landing a really impressive and uncooperative fish, herding equally uncooperative sheep, rounding up an uncooperative orange bunny, and more. “Bottom of the World” paired a Tom Waits song with one of BV’s most endearing qualities: the inventive use of simple props — in this case, a long plank. Sometimes they don’t even need that, as Anna Marra and Josh Murry proved in their prop-less duet to the vocal harmonies of the Hi-Los, or magenta-frocked co-founder Jamey Hampton’s reprise of his dazzling solo to a Paganini showpiece, this time to a recording of the fiddle original rather than last week’s live marimba solo in BodyVox’s Chamber Music Northwest show. Its lighthearted creativity and broad audience appeal make BodyVox an Oregon treasure.

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