Ashley Roland

Dance preview: BodyVox’s Death and Delight scramble

After a leading dancer took a blow to the noggin, BodyVox called on its dancers' super powers to learn new roles

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.

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All-American at the ballet

Oregon Ballet Theatre "dances like real people" in a vibrant program of works by Alvin Ailey, Trey McIntyre, and BodyVox's Roland & Hampton

“Dance like you’re real people,” Trey McIntyre told the original cast members of his Robust American Love when he made it on Oregon Ballet Theatre for the 2013-14 season.  McIntyre’s take on the real people, particularly the women, who settled the American heartland is the centerpiece of OBT’s The Americans, the concluding repertory show of the 2018-19 season.  It opened Friday night at Portland’s Newmark Theatre and repeats Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, June 13-15.

Actually, Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature, which opens the show, and Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland’s Big Shoes, which closes it, are also about real people, arguably one of the overriding characteristics of American ballet that distinguishes it from the European tradition.  That characteristic dates back to 1936, when  Lincoln Kirstein founded Ballet Caravan, a small touring company with a repertoire of ballets about gas jockeys, outlaws (Billy the Kid), sailors on a whaling ship, and the urban poor.  Most of their scores were commissioned from American composers.

The OBT company in Alvin Ailey and Duke Ellington’s Night Creature. Photo: Jingzi Zhao

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BodyVox dives for pearls

It's a high-risk gamble: Can a group of non-choreographers create a compelling evening of dance? BodyVox decides to find out.

Creativity is a mysterious beast. We try to lasso it and stick it in separate corrals: Writers here. Painters here. Composers here. Actors here. Dancers here. Git along, little dogies, but stay in place. Except creativity can also be a stubborn beast, with a will of its own, and sometimes it just doesn’t cotton to corrals.

That’s the underlying texture of the Pearl Dive Project, BodyVox’s series of short pieces choreographed by people who aren’t choreographers or even dancers, but who’ve distinguished themselves in other creative fields. How might their experiences as novelist, chef, painter, art director, photographer, or filmmaker translate when working with skilled moving bodies in a rehearsal hall and on a stage? What does creativity have in common across disciplines, and how is it specific to a single form of expression?

Brent Luebbert, not quite dead in Sherrie Wolf’s “Elegy.” Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

The idea’s novel, and risky, and also, in a way, simply a reflection of reality. Creativity does spill over. Victor Hugo and August Strindberg were great writers, and also visual artists of note. Comic actor Jim Carrey paints, provocatively. Albert Einstein played classical violin, by most accounts very well. Even politicians get into the act. Winston Churchill was an amateur painter. Harry Truman played piano. Bill Clinton plays the saxophone. George W. Bush paints.

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Pilobolus family tree has Portland branch

BodyVox co-founder Jamey Hampton recalls his early days in Pilobolus as both companies prepare to stage local shows

When the dance and movement troupe Pilobolus comes to the Newmark Theatre Thursday through Saturday to kick off the White Bird dance season with its two-hour extravaganza Come to your senses, you’ll see a little bit of Portland dance history in the act – and, a week later, a little bit of Pilobolus history when BodyVox kicks off its new season with the latest version of its popular Halloween comedy horror show, BloodyVox.

Jamey Hampton is the connecting tissue. He and his wife, Ashley Roland, founded BodyVox in Portland twenty years ago, after putting together a successful dance collaboration with Portland Opera for its pairing of Pagliacci and Carmina Burana. But twenty years before that, Hampton was performing with Pilobolus and the original group of artists who famously formed the company at Dartmouth College, the Ivy League school in small-town Hanover, New Hampshire.

Pilobolus brings its “Come to your senses” repertory show to Portland this week. Photo courtesy White Bird

What Pilobolus was doing at the time was something new – not so much contemporary dance as choreographed athleticism, with an overlay of visual spectacle and playful anthropomorphism. (The company name comes from a fungus co-founder Jonathan Wolken’s father was studying that, as Wikipedia puts it, “grows on cow dung and propels itself with extraordinary strength, speed and accuracy.”) Pilobolus has evolved a lot over the years, and changed personnel, but a lot of its original vision remains in the current company.

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Dance Preview: BodyVox’s ‘Rain & Roses’ checks some boxes

BodyVox finishes up its 20th anniversary season with a dance concert set to the music of female songwriters

When BodyVox’s artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland sat down to consider their 20th season, they knew they were going to go big. Six months later, they’ve accomplished a lot. World premiere of a brand new work? Check. Present evening-length work of two resident artists? Check. Take two shows on a five-city international tour? Check. Present dance film festival? Check. Pair up with Grammy-nominated wind quintet, Imani Winds for a show at Revolution Hall? Check.

And finally, premiere a brand new hybrid work featuring all-female music and set in a gritty Portland warehouse? They are about to tick that box, too.

It’s not too late to witness the Portland-based dance company as they check that last box and conclude a whirlwind of a season. Rain & Roses opens this weekend, May 10-12, and continues the following weekend, May 17-19, in the North Warehouse, 723 N. Tillamook Street.

Here are five reasons why you might want to check your own Rain & Roses box:

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BodyVox’s ‘Lexicon’: New expression through tech

BodyVox launched its 20th anniversary season with 'Lexicon," a deep marriage of movement and tech

By HEATHER WISNER

Tech has partnered with dance for years, often to thrilling effect, from the otherworldly motion-capture images generated in Merce Cunningham’s Biped to the wireless heart monitor attached to a bare-chested Baryshnikov in Heartbeat: mb. So it follows that BodyVox—which has a long history of multimedia performance, particularly with collaborator/filmmaker Mitchell Rose—would eventually build a show around a tech theme.

That show is Lexicon, which opened the company’s 20th anniversary season last night in the company’s Northwest Portland dance studio. Lexicon is a suite of dances infused with a variety of tech, from green screen and animation to cell phones and video gaming. BodyVox’s high-level collaborators in this endeavor include Boxtrolls animator Mike Smith and FoxTrax programmer Wade Olsen. (The production as a whole makes Deere John, company co-founder Jamey Hampton’s lovesick duet with a tractor, which was part of the entry that won the American Choreography Award for Outstanding Achievement in Short Film in 2002, seem positively archaic from a mechanical standpoint.)

BodyVox kicked off its 20th anniversary season with “Lexicon,” a multi-media extravaganza./Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert

Hampton and co-founder Ashley Roland don’t appear onstage in this show; their focus has been creating its choreography—and additionally for Roland, its costumes—but various combinations of the company’s eight dancers carry out their vision. (Roland and Hampton do make an appearance in Icons, a short film Rose shot of them dressed as the black cutout figures on public signage for restrooms and the like. Though not as tech-y as some of the program, it’s an entertaining vision of what could happen if those figures came to life.)

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A mellow ‘Meadow’ like old times

BodyVox's "Urban Meadow," a blend of repertory favorites and a celebration of dancer Eric Skinner, is like a dinner party with old friends

Going to opening night of BodyVox’s Urban Meadow at Lincoln Performance Hall on Thursday evening was a little like dropping over for dinner with a bunch of old friends you haven’t seen in a while, and remembering why you liked them in the first place. The table was set nicely, the food and wine were good, and everybody swapped old jokes and stories with easy familiarity. There was even a guest of honor, who was fondly feted, and who told a few good tales himself.

The “guest,” or more appropriately the member of the family, was dancer Eric Skinner, an original BodyVoxer whose final Portland performances with the company after twenty years will be at the end of this brief run on Saturday. And the show, though technically a Portland premiere, is made up of a bunch of favorites that longtime BodyVox followers will recognize, and generally be pleased to see again. (Newbies will have the pleasure of meeting the members of the family for the first time.) This is the program, assembled a year and a half ago, that BodyVox takes on tour: It’s been from Germany to China, and is heading soon to China again.

“Hopper’s Dinner”: an exuberant feast. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Urban Meadow is an expansive program, running a little over two hours with the addition of three celebratory pieces chosen by Skinner as a sort of final tip of the hat, but because all of the works are short and well-shaped, it doesn’t feel overstuffed. The whole thing’s introduced with wit and charm by co-artistic director Jamey Hampton (his mother-in-law, he noted wryly on Thursday, liked to refer to him as the Dick Clark of dance) and, before Skinner’s portion of the program, by Ashley Roland, Hampton’s co-founder, co-artistic director, and wife.

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