NextMove Dance brought Portland, Oregon’s BodyVox to Philly with Urban Meadow, a best-of compilation with 12 dances and two short films. Spanning different moods, themes, and styles, the company demonstrated its well-known athleticism and humor as well as its introspective and elegant sides.
In the beginning, there was Pilobolus, the groundbreaking modern-dance company whose namesake fungus reproduces by launching high-speed spores that stick wherever they land. In that spirit, Pilobolus begat Momix, a company known for creativity and visual illusions. In 1997, BodyVox arose from Pilobolus and Momix: its artistic codirectors, Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, helped form the latter; Hampton also danced with Pilobolus.
BodyVox has similar goals. The company’s name means “body voice,” as Hampton pointed out in his pre-performance remarks, and the company seeks to tell stories with dancers’ bodies. I look forward to these remarks at NextMove Dance productions, which offer rare and informative chances to hear from artistic directors, choreographers, and sometimes dancers right before the dance begins.
Fittingly, Urban Meadow’s content captured a range of experiences and emotions. Sometimes I laughed out loud during the performance; other times I was moved by the striking shapes dancers made onstage.
Fire and film
The program began with “Firewall.” In it, eight of the company’s nine dancers appeared before a fire projected on a screen behind them, all appearing to rise from the flames. They moved in patterns as quick, random, and beautiful as the blaze.
All but two dancers left the stage when the onscreen fire dwindled, then reignited, a visual suggesting dying and rekindling embers. Layers of tulle on costumes mimicked the color and movement of flames.
Sensual “Little Drop of Poison” and elegant “Alice” were like two sides of a coin, both duets exploring the complexities of romantic relationships to music by Tom Waits. The tango-inflected “Poison” playfully portrayed passion and frustration, with Daniel Kirk dragging Ashley Roland across the floor and moving his hands on her leg as though playing a guitar. The dancers portrayed unbalanced yet constantly shifting power dynamics, such as when Roland placed her foot on Kirk’s back while he was face down in a plank position.
“Alice” immediately followed: the dance of a couple in love, not on fire. Alicia Cutaia and Brent Luebbert twirled in gracefully synchronized turns and attitude pirouettes in front of a screen showing images of clouds.
“Urban Meadow,” “Captain Tenacity,” and “Open Line” delivered laugh-out-loud moments. The first of these told a comic animal story, with seven dancers wearing caps with floppy ears and baaa-ing like sheep. The other two company members performed the roles of dedicated sheepdog and hunting wolf. The piece was replete with silliness and novelty.
“Captain Tenacity” and “Open Line” drew on visual effects for laughs. The former, a solo created and performed by Roland, featured a superhero in a Velcro suit and comically dramatic music by Richard Wagner.
“Open Line” used several forms of technology to novel ends, but it would spoil the surprise to reveal how.
Of the two films, both visually interesting but dated, “Advance” stood out. Clever editing tricks allowed Hampton and Roland to perform a seamless dance in 50 different locations. Few can dance professionally, but almost anyone can make a cool short movie on a phone or computer.
A few of the dances were overly long, wearing out their welcome like a too-big slice of pie that looks and tastes good but is impossible to finish. Nevertheless, most of the dances BodyVox launches will stick. The company makes a persuasive case for dance being a universal language: the body’s voice makes itself heard through the different dances in Urban Meadow and the images and emotions they produce.