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Richard Penberthy
Performance Reviews
The Joyce Theater
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

BodyVox at the Joyce Theater - A Well-Intentioned Evening

by Richard Penberthy
November 19, 2005
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011

BodyVox at the Joyce Theater - A Well-Intentioned Evening

Presented at the Joyce Theatre
New York, NY

Richard Penberthy
November 19. 2005

The show, Civilization Unplugged by BodyVox (at Joyce Theater until November 20) misses its audience. According to notes from its artistic directors, the show began "with the premise of technological evolution flowing in reverse." But this is New York City. Technology has made as many or more things better in our lives than it has enabled to grow threatening and hectic. New Yorkers by and large do not long for pre-cell phone communication and pre-computerized living.

Happily, the show doesn't stick to its premise - reversed technological evolution. In fact, computer-designed projections and techno music are very much a part of the evening. While these choreographers (who also perform) and dancers may not believe wholeheartedly in the digital buzz of our world, neither do they seek the "more elemental forces of instinct and human spirit" by turning back the technological clock - not really.

Still, this is an evening that is utterly wholesome and well-intentioned. Everything is bald-faced, uncomplicated. Every audience has had the experience of - and perhaps welcomed - an evening that requires no thought, no seeking after meaning in complicated choreography. This is such a show.

"Riven," the opening dance, suggests the intrusiveness of technology in our lives and features the entire company, with music by one of the artistic directors, Pilobolus alumnus Jamey Hampton. His co-artistic director is partner Ashley Roland; all but one of the dances are choreographed by the pair. Both the music and the dance are high-speed techno. Black and charcoal costumes - of various archetypes for both men and women, e.g., some of the men have ties, some don't - are each riven with a scarlet zig-zag at various heights. The computer projections - terse words - behind them are annoying to read while focusing the dancers. And, when they turn as couples to physically address each other, each must move rapidly and in sync with the other, essentially to get out of the way. For if they don't, a karate thrust would land painfully…they jab at each other's just-vacated space as they convulse. Projected words stutter their way across the back of the screen and flicker and inflict themselves on the consciousness. Closing, the entire company picks up laptops and keys messages projected behind them - all of loneliness, all wanting human contact. The point is made.

The show does not descend incrementally dance by dance into a non-technological age from there. But neither are all the dances engaging. Three dances stand out.

A solo, "Reservations," choreographed by Ashley Roland, features Lane Hunter. Mr. Hunter dances about (yes, in that sense too) an imaginary figure, a figure that seems to represent more than just one archetype/role. That figure is represented physically by the end of the stage left curtain wall, and the dancer addresses it with the ambiguity of a classical approach-avoidance paradox. This is an acrobatic clown turn and Mr. Hunter's strength and sense of humor are up to conveying paradox - somewhat reminiscent of Donald O'Connor.

Immediately following the solo, Mr. Hunter morphs into a waiter in "Hopper's Dinner", performed with four other dancers - the diners at a restaurant. The set and props comprise a (very sturdy) table and four chairs, assorted glasses, a wine bottle, and a tablecloth. The five dancers clearly enjoy the acrobatics and humor of this dance. They dance on and under the table, they pursue each other in their chairs, staccato hopping around the table, and they are fearless. The strange pairing of this near-slapstick with Tom Watts' music works brilliantly, and this is an odds-on audience favorite.

"Falling Garden" (the second part of a four-part suite, "Leave the Lights On") is performed by Mr. Hampton and Ms. Roland. They perform for the most part by lying, rolling, sitting in juxtaposition to one another, their desire for one another represented by the flower each clutches. Whenever they seem close to embracing, a flower planted in a sandbag (one is not to wonder why) plummets to stage between them with a loud thud. Finally one plummets at some distance from them, and they are able to touch as the dance ends. In this suite, technology again plays a important, one might even say intrusive, role (you were warned): projected words form shapes representing what the words name - think stacks of the word chimney to represent a chimney, or clouds of the word cloud.

After the intermission, a brief "Open Line" - not a dance at all - finds the dancers strolling onstage, soliciting cell phone calls and then chatting loudly. A brief video clip, "Learn to Phone Phony", follows. It is a mildly humorous admonishment to encourage mannerly use (or abandonment) of the cell phone. It is also less a bridge to the final suite of dances than it is a closed gate.

The dancers have detached for the evening and appear tired except for one athletic, pas de trois for men, a strong and careful exercise in partnering. The final dance of the suite invites the audience to see fields of green, red roses, and it is all understood to mean "I love you." As dancers gesture for the audience to sing along, the audience rightly balks. Curtain calls for individual dancers are accompanied by - of course - projections behind them with bits of characterizations such as "Chihuahua lover" or "Spinner" or "Good lifter". And with the possible exception of the few children in the audience, the audience is silent.

…Which reprises the point we began with: the show misses its audience. The show, in its sweetness and, yes, its didacticism, would be a fine entertainment for youngsters. There's nothing wrong with that - it's to be admired; but, people who are not youngsters will not be entirely pleased to have been invited to sing along with BodyVox.

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