"If we were a band, I'd say, 'We're making a live album and you're all going to be a part of it,'" said BodyVox co-founder Jamey Hampton, as he welcomed a capacity crowd to the BodyVox Dance Center March 26. It was opening night of The Foot Opera Files, and the first show in the new performance space.
Buying and renovating property in a flailing economy is risky, but the Center (once Wells Fargo's horse stables) offers creative staging opportunities that PCPA, BodyVox's usual venue, does not. The performance felt more immediate from the outset, as viewers gathered around Lane Hunter, who rolled up the space's garage door to reveal the performers' feet splayed in various poses out on the sidewalk.
Foot Opera is a series of movement vignettes set to Tom Waits songs, sung by Portland Opera artists. A four-piece band, including accordion and melodica, gives the music an old-time feel. The whole show has a vaudevillian vibe: dancers and musicians, in vintage finery, perform bathed in footlights and flanked by outsize pineapple tops. When they're not on stage, they prowl the catwalk, lounge in offstage chairs or meander through the background. Galoshes and watering cans spill from the ceiling, and dancers seem to defy gravity as a live projection verticalizes their crawl across the floor.
The small space has its drawbacks; without PCPA's room to run, some of the movement feels cramped. The exceptions are the funny bits, such as Hampton's twitchy-hipped Elvis impersonation and Eric Skinner as a loose-limbed sad sack manipulated by a plank of wood that changes from boxcar to teeter-totter to stake.
Economic constraints notwithstanding, the company hopes to transfer its current operations to the new venue by August, says general manager Una Loughran. The space won't be fully finished by then, but perhaps close enough to hold classes, rehearsals and an office. Construction of an in-house studio theater that BodyVox can rent to other performance groups has been put on hold, but the Red Dress Party will be held there in May, and special permits will allow other groups to use the space occasionally.
BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 NW 17th Ave., 229-0627. 7:30 pm Wednesday-Sunday, 2 pm Saturday, April 1-5. $30-$46.