writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

A Witty Debut

Joyce Theater
New York, NY
March 14, 2004

by Susan Reiter
copyright 2004 by Susan Reiter
published 15 March 2004

The Pilobolus family tree continues to send forth new branches, the newest (at least to NYC audiences) being BodyVox, a sprightly eight-member troupe founded in 1997. Their manner of presentation will be familiar to those who have seen Momix or ISO—short, often witty works to an inventive array of well-chosen music, presented in quick succession and with no bows until the end of the program. The dances do owe something to the Pilobolus (and son-of-Pilobolus) style: the incorporation of moves from gymnastics and yoga, a playful way of shaping and entangling the bodies. BodyVox also brings a freshness and zest to the mix, as well as an irreverent, affectionate sensuality.

Co-artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland performed together in Momix and were co-founders of ISO. Hampton was a member of Pilobolus in the late '70s and early '80. Jointly or separately, they were responsible for choreographing eight of the nine works on the program, as well as the two extremely clever and witty dance films.

The first half was the stronger portion, and it was highlighted by solo and duet pieces that made their distinctive or quirky statements and left you wanting more. Hampton, who remains an endearing and nimble performer, turned his body into amazingly loose, multi-directional music visualization of a Paganini violin and guitar composition in Moto Perpetuo, which launched the program thrillingly. His hands started to flutter and vibrate as the music began, and the violin's frenetic runs and trills inspired rapid, unpredictable vibrations and undulations through his arms and then the rest of his body. His timing and control were truly brilliant; he made it seem as though he was reacting with utter spontaneity to wherever the music's cascade of notes was leading him.

Roland performed a solo, Beat, to close the first half. She is a more grounded performer than Hampton, and used her strongly centered physique to embody and transmit the primal rhythms of Evan Solor's score. She doesn't articulate as clearly as Hampton, so the piece, while intriguingly sensual, did not have the same kind of idiosyncratic distinctiveness as his solo.

The one work on the program not choreographed by the directors was X-Axis, choreographed by Eric Skinner. This was essentially a trio for two men (Skinner and Daniel Kirk) in orange-red tights and a trapeze. They kept their moves simple as they counter-balanced and supported one another on the trapeze, then held onto it together, performing complementary movements. The artfully sustained, meditative quality of their performance was riveting, as were the cantilevered, isometric positions they held. They used the trapeze as an instrument, a partner, rather than for its potential for feats of daring.

There were several works for six dancers (usually two women and four men, the familiar Pilobolus configuration), and some of these tended to lack the powerful imprint and sharp focus of the smaller works. The Big Dip was an amiable romp at the shore in patterned shorts to music that blended jazz blues and techno. The dancers bounded and jumped merrily but blandly. The piece ended with a memorable image, as the two women, held horizontally, seemed to swim off to opposite sides of the stage. Dormez Vous had a quartet of grey nocturnal creatures appearing from inside the bed of a sleeping couple, eventually spiriting them away.

More memorable was Reverie, a delightfully sensual piece in which the dancers embodied plant life in exquisitely designed costumes by Michael Curry. These were fairly elaborate but remarkably unintrusive as the dancers moved. The two women were lilies, complete with petal-shaped skirts, and the men wore tubular pale green overall-type outfits that turned them into stalks of bamboo. All of this flora glided through gentle, exploratory lifts, often in the familiar Pilobolus arrangement of two men holding a woman aloft. The intriguing shapes and air of demure calm worked beautifully with the sublime female vocal duet from Delibes' Lakme.

Falling for Grace also featured an inspired musical choice: a slightly haunting, unnerving piece by Danny Elfman, whose scores make such a stunning contribution to the films of Tim Burton and many others. (The program did not offer any information on the source of this Elfman selection.) This dreamlike piece crossed a Magritte-like sensibility with lush romance, as a fellow in white, shadowed by four men in similarly styled but dark attire, carried a beauteous goddess in diaphanous grey to him, and pulled her away. The tone the air of mystery were just right, and it ended with the central man alone, perhaps left to his dreams.

Mitchell Rose directed, scripted and edited the two brief films that were marked by whimsy and physical imagination. In Deere John, Hampton in love at first glimpse with a lumbering John Deere Excavator (as the press release calls it—to me it looked like a giant backhoe) and found momentary bliss in its "embrace." The other film was a mock medical report on sleep studies, with Hampton and Ashley as a sleeping couple doing a hilarious time-lapse duet around and under their bed. On the evidence of these films, Rose is a brilliant editor. There was not an extraneous moment.

BodyVox is too accomplished a troupe to include the kind of buzz-word-laden "About the Company" note that appeared in the Joyce program. Facts and information, especially in the case of a company appearing locally for the first time, are welcome and useful. But there's something bush league about program copy that trumpets "bold athleticism" and breathtaking physicality" and reads more like an advertisement.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 11
March 15, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Susan Reiter



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last updated on January 11, 2004