Heather Jackson

BodyVox aloft (strings attached)

The Amphion String Quartet joins the dancers onstage in BodyVox's latest, stressing the interplay of music and dance

In their choreography for BodyVox‘s mysteriously titled  Cosmosis, which opened last Thursday and continues through June 6, company artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, in close collaboration  with the Amphion String Quartet, tackle some big and serious subjects, among them sensory perception and nature’s delicate balance. On the whole, it was the dances that did not deal with these subjects that, for me at least, worked best.

Incoming, which started the show, was one of them. Set to John Adams’ Travelers, the high-energy piece proclaims, vividly, in dance and musical terms, the intricacies and risks of the BodyVox-Amphion collaboration.

Dance and music, all intertwined. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Dance and music, all intertwined. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Six dancers – Alicia Cutala, Brent Luebbert, Anna Marra, Josh Murry, Eric Skinner and Holly Shaw – jumped and jogged and lifted each other among and around and between musicians Katie Hyun, Mihai Marica, Wei-Yang Andy Lin and Davie Southorn, who, seated center stage, sawed away magnificently at Adams’ marvelously danceable score. There is no room for error in this plotless piece: at one point I thought a dancer would be impaled on the cellist’s bow; at another, a bow would be knocked out of a violinist’s hand. Despite its military-sounding title, Incoming makes a splendid introduction to these highly talented artists, musicians and dancers alike, not to mention the fine tuned craftsmanship of the two choreographers.

Murmur, which merely deals with the relationship between the sexes, came next. Basically a lovely duet with some unlovely moments, it is both lovingly and contentiously performed by Leubert and Marra to Kui Dong’s sometimes lyrical, sometimes aggressive, always gorgeous and gorgeously played score. Periodically, two couples enter and watch the unlovely combative parts, then exit without reacting. I’m not quite sure why.

This was followed by a showing of Hampton, dancing on film to Daniel Schlosberg’s music played live by the Amphion String Quartet, while the dancers changed their costumes (all of them for the show were designed by Roland) for Vaux’s Descent. I could have watched Hampton’s quirky, joint-separating, rubbery-limbed, mobile-faced dancing for a lot longer than the two minutes or so that we got, and regret that all we got of him and Roland dancing was in this clip and a showing of Advance, another Mitchell Rose film made several years ago.

Hampton on screen, musicians onstage. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Hampton on screen, musicians onstage. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Vaux’s Descent, I’m sorry to say, didn’t fly. Projected text told us that the dance is about the annual migration of the Vaux Swifts to Northwest Portland’s Chapman School, and the killing of one of them by a Cooper’s Hawk some years ago, shocking the audience that was watching them circle the school’s chimneys.

Certainly, the dancers listed above, joined by Heather Jackson and Daniel Kirk, did their excellent, if occasionally strained, best with the Momix-accented choreography. The musicians played Samuel Barber’s String Quartet in B Minor eloquently and well. But that didn’t make the music less hackneyed and sentimental or the tulle-trimmed lycra costumes look less frivolous. Nervous giggles from some audience members made me wonder, as perhaps they did, whether this piece about the delicate balance of nature was meant to be taken seriously.

The visually complex Garden of  Synaesthesia, which opened the show’s second half,  fared better.  There are several ways to define the title, but basically it means seeing a color when you hear a sound. The sound we heard was the slow movement of Ravel’s String Quartet in F Major III, given full, exquisite justice by the musicians, who had been moved to stage left. Deep blue, orange, lavender and crimson were the colors we saw in the dancers’ velvet unitards, both on stage as they moved like sea creatures in organically kaleidoscopic fashion against the mirror on the back wall, and on screen.  Audience and musicians were also reflected in that mirror, which made the piece quite interesting, if at times a bit too busy.

Jackson: Singer's Madame X in movement. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Jackson: Sargent’s Madame X in movement. Photo: Blaine Truitt Covert

Like Incoming, Madame X is a fine example of the conjoining of dancer and musician. Made for Heather Jackson, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the portrait of the American expatriate socialite so famously painted in 1884 Paris by John Singer Sargent, the piece in effect is a pas deux performed with cellist Marica, playing music composed by Schlösberg. Musician and dancer are linked by a long piece of cloth, reminiscent of some of Loie Fuller’s integrations of fabric, lights, music and dance, although Jackson is a far better dancer than La Loie is reported to have been. In this, she is wonderful, as, in a replica of Madame X’s glittery strapped black gown, she performs an undulating, creamy, serpentine dance, curling her fingers, curving her strong back, flirting with the fabric, the music and the audience, using every muscle in her body including those in her face.

I don’t know if Hampton and Roland intended to make pieces reminiscent of “aesthetic dance,” as modern dance was called at the turn of the last century, but Between the Bars – basically a waltz composed by Elliot Smith and arranged by Schlösberg, with its filmy costumes for the women – had the feel of an Isadora Duncan drawing-room dance. It’s a very dancey piece, and contains quite a lot of good-humored back and forth between dancers and musicians, as does the closing Cosmosis, which also bears some resemblance to aesthetic dance.

With Incoming, Madame X, Murmur, and Between the Bars, the dancers and the musicians are all good reasons to see the show. And you don’t want to miss Jackson’s final performances.  There are six more, starting Thursday night.


Oregon ArtsWatch Archives