The Spin

Dance Weekly: The holidays have us spinning

Nutcrackers galore, BodyVox's 'Spin', Northwest Dance Project's dancers turn into choreographers

I have been ruminating all week about Eugene and the Eugene Ballet Company since I read Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, & My Midlife Quest to Dance The Nutcracker by Lauren Kessler, which I wrote about last week. I realized I know nothing about the dance community there, even though Eugene is so close to Portland. When I lived on the East Coast it was normal to spend at least an hour-and-a-half driving anywhere, if not more. Assuming my ignorance of dance in a nearby city is shared by other dance-propelled folks, my question is why isn’t there more of an exchange between the dance communities in both of these cities? Whatever the reasons are, it should happen more.

This week in Portland, the dancers of the Northwest Dance Project switch roles and become choreographers—debuting new choreography on each other. Many ballet companies throughout the United States do something similar, and the events are light and carefree and give everyone a nice break from the rigours of the season. A perfect holiday wind down.

Also happening this week are the final performances of The Library At The End Of The World by the dancers of 11: Dance Co at Coho Productions. You will see some phenomenal dancing by a deeply dedicated and passionate group. You can follow their performances and catch up on their live theatre mishaps on their blog written by marketing director Huy Pham. One story involves a frozen sound board and the other a frozen light board. It all makes good theatre.

Also this weekend will be the final spinning at The Spin. BodyVox’s new show puts 25 dances on a game show wheel and lets audiences spin to decide the order of the show. At first I thought this was a form of torture to put the dancers through, but artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland play it fair by putting themselves in the mix as well.

Hampton is the consummate host and makes this a really enjoyably goofy evening. He is a shmoozer for sure and it is great fun watching him engage the audience, crack jokes, drink a beer, spin the wheel and run back and forth changing in and out of costumes as he dances and emceess. It’s a blast and a great way to get a decent sampling of the BodyVox repertoire.

Northwest Dance Project's Samantha Campbell kicks up her heels in "In Good Company." (c) Peddicord Photo

Northwest Dance Project’s Samantha Campbell kicks up her heels in “In Good Company.” (c) Peddicord Photo

In Good Company
Northwest Dance Project
December 17-18
Revolution Hall, 1300 SE Stark St.

It’s all about whimsy this holiday season. Travel back in time with Northwest Dance Projects’ dancers-turned-choreographers to the whimsical school days of yesteryear. Enjoy a playful return to youth with these vibrant dancers as they frolic and roll to the tunes of Puccini, Dick Dale and many more. The choreographers are Kody Jauron, Elijah Labay, Lindsey McGill, Andrea Parson, Franco Nieto, Julia Radick, and Ching Ching Wong.

Wong’s choreography can also be seen this weekend in 11:Dance Co’s Library At The End Of The World.

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Spinning wheel, dance by chance

BodyVox's new show of greatest hits takes a chance on chance, adding a comic lightness to a troubling time

“Awright, awright,” Jamey Hampton shouted into his microphone, sprinting onto the stage in his best Joel Grey/carnival-barker impersonation. “Here we go! Welcome to The Spin!”

I’m going to go way out on a limb here and suggest this isn’t the sort of opening you’d expect from, say, a Martha Graham dance concert. Then again, this is BodyVox, not Martha Graham, and in the world of BodyVox, where the view of American cultural history skews more through Mark Twain and James Thurber and Bee Bop a Lula and the vaudeville stage than through the Valley of Earnest Transcendental Gestures, the only surprise about a dance concert filtered through the TV game show Wheel of Fortune is that it’s taken the troupe 18 years to come up with it. After all, BodyVox operates under a couple of core assumptions that color its aesthetic approach: “entertainment” isn’t a dirty word, and humor is important stuff.

Hampton and company, taking a chance on dance. Jingzi Photography

Hampton and company, taking a chance on dance. Jingzi Photography

So, this is how The Spin landed on its opening night Thursday. The company’s nine dancers rehearsed 24 pieces – about 150 minutes of dance in all – from the repertory, and each title was entered in a slot on the giant spinning wheel, which multitasking stage hand Clark Young, sporting a bushy Portlandia beard and a shoulderless dress and answering to the name Manna White, rolled onstage between pieces. Hampton then cajoled someone in the audience to come on up and give ’er a spin. Then, depending on where it landed, the performers rushed to change into the proper costumes while Hampton, sometimes joined by his wife and co-company founder Ashley Roland, filled in the time with what the nightclub crowd refers to as “patter.” Sometimes it was a little story about how that piece came to be created. Sometimes it was a little bio about one or another of the dancers. Sometimes it was just … patter.

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