I'VE SEEN ENOUGH mediocre performances over my lifetime that I'm grateful whenever a show offers at least one stunning moment. By that standard, the premiere of BodyVox's new work Smoke Soup was a night to remember.
Smoke Soup's moment came toward the end of a rather lackluster first half. Company member Eric Skinner, alone onstage, danced with a set of automobile tires in a way that was reminiscent of Fred Astaire partnering a hat rack. Suddenly Skinner dashed across the floor, threw himself into the air, and bodysurfed over three upended radials. The tires had been randomly rolled onstage, and the realization that chance played a featured role added to the thrill. (Skinner admitted afterward that the trick doesn't always work.)
Smoke Soup's 16 dances were each set to a song by country/blues man Joe Henry, and the ad hoc band of local musicians, handpicked by bassist Michael Papillo, interpreted them intelligently. Former Portland Opera Studio Artist Hannah Penn stood out, but guitarist Matt Sheehy and percussionist Joe Janiga also vied for my attention. Which is a good thing, because what happened onstage often lost it.
Unfortunately, BodyVox's performance felt tired. For starters, Artistic Directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland looked tired. I can't blame them—BodyVox's newly remodeled home in Northwest Portland had been burglarized a few days earlier and eight computers, including the external backup system containing their entire archives, had been stolen.
In addition, though, the dancers weren't well synchronized, and the lifts lacked the effortlessness that can make dance so thrilling.
I hate to write any of that, because Smoke Soup and BodyVox have a lot going for them. Company member Zachary Carroll dances with a joy that makes one wish he infected the others. And Hampton and Roland's choreography feels fresh and inventive—clearly, the company has something to say artistically.
Smoke Soup runs through April 10. Hopefully, the company can reinvigorate itself during the run. If not, there's still that stunning moment....