Sunday, February 14, 2016

Dance Review

The ever popular BodyVox returns to Annenberg

Dance Review


By Merilyn Jackson


 The 15-year-old Portland-based dance company BodyVox first appeared at Annenberg Center in 2001. This is now the group’s fifth visit as one of the Dance Celebration series' favorites — and one of mine as well.

 BodyVox is a winsome company of a dozen top-tier dancers. Artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, both of whom still dance in the company, are alums of Momix and Pilobolus. That heritage shows best in certain sections of their eight-part paean to films and filmmaking, The Cutting Room, which the two conceived and choreographed.  It opened Thursday night for this weekend run.

 On film and in person, Jonathan Krebs (in a jogging outfit) chased Hampton (in suit and tie) throughout the show, crashing through screens to try to snatch back a mysterious canister of film — the MacGuffin that ties the often-unrelated sections together. The conceit was useful to buy time for costume changes. But some of the attention put into this running gag could have been better used to beef up the choreography.

 When you think of big dance scenes in contemporary costume dramas, you know they are choreographed more for the modern eye. So it was with the first section, “Historical Fiction,” to a W. A. Mozart suite. Pregnant pauses and hands flexed Egyptian-style added wit to its foppery and courtliness, but it didn't live up to those grand ballroom scenes.

 “Documentary” had David Attenborough’s “Vampire Squid” narration, and its choreography delivered the most Momix-y moments. In shimmering bodysuits, 10 dancers permutated in fancy, often beautiful, squid-like squirming. Three dancers pulled the others off stage as if they were one undulating sheet of seaweed.

 A bluesy rendition of an operatic aria set a sexy tone for the ‘50s-era “Screen Kiss.” “Sci-Fi” riffed on the scene in Kubrick's 2001 when the computer HAL is decommissioned; it had the troupe again in spacey bodysuits — a requisite for flotation in sea or ether. They pulled off an inventive gravitational bit by placing straps under one dancer and floating him around between them.

 “Americana,” set to the bluegrass music of Ralph Stanley, had some fine moments of clogging and legs expertly swinging out from immobile torsos.

 Despite the gorgeous bare torsos of the men in “Bollywood,” I wouldn’t have minded if it and “Chase” were left on the cutting room floor.

Dec.14, 2 PM and 8 PM Tickets: $20 -- $55. Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut St. 215.898.3900

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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