In a world with no COVID-19, BodyVox's latest production, Nineteen•Twenty, a celebration of the grit and glitz that defined that decade, would have already come and gone.
"By now, it was going to be over, and I was going to be in Japan," says Jamey Hampton, who co-founded the company in 1997 with his wife, Ashley Roland. With a rueful amusement, he adds, "So, the best-laid plans…"
Hampton worried less about delaying Nineteen•Twenty, which will now debut in December, than the challenge of connecting with audiences during the pandemic.
"The very beautiful and special thing about BodyVox is that it's a community of people," Hampton explains. "The thing that gets communicated to us more than anything isn't, 'Bummer, I can't see that show.' It is, 'We just really miss coming to your space. We miss your vision and our community.'"
To keep that communal spirit alive, BodyVox has made some of its shows available for free streaming—and the two currently online, 2019's Death and Delight and 2018's Rain & Roses, were shot with cinematic flair that makes for exhilarating viewing.
"We know how to film a show and make it look really interesting," Hampton says. "With Rain & Roses, I ran through that stage with a Steadicam at the beginning, and I had GoPro stuff all over the place. We do multicamera shoots of our shows and we think they translate well onto video."
Together, Death and Delight and Rain & Roses represent the sweeping scope of BodyVox's capabilities. While Death draws inspiration from the past—it retells Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream with music by Mendelssohn and Prokofiev—Rain is raucously modern. Featuring songs by Norah Jones and Yoko Ono and others performed by live musicians, it's an ode to Portland packed with astounding images, like dancer Jillian St. Germain gracefully undulating inside a translucent half-sphere suspended above the stage.
If BodyVox weren't cinematically savvy, putting its shows online would merely be a thoughtful gesture. Yet its gift for fusing the languages of dance and film elevates every frame. Cameras seem to have been everywhere—on the ground, in the audience—and the sounds of the shows were captured so skillfully that, as Hampton puts it, "you can hear people's footfalls."
Some parts of the performances translate to the screen better than others. If you only have time to watch one BodyVox show, pick Rain & Roses—not because Death and Delight is less impressive but because Rain's outsized energy better compensates for the limits of the small screen. It's hard to top a show where one of the dancers hangs from a harness and spins to the beat of Fiona Apple's "Waltz (Better Than Fine)."
As Hampton and Roland adapt to the reality of running BodyVox during a pandemic, they remain optimistic.
"I think we're all sort of wondering how long this virus is going to go and how we're going to come out of it, but for us, it's an important time to keep vital and keep creating," Roland says. "There's some exciting things coming. I'll just leave it at that. We're trying to reinvent the way we present ourselves"
As for the appropriately named StreamingVox, Hampton is heartened by the breadth of its audience.
"We have had literally hundreds and hundreds of views of these shows so far," he says. "It's really exciting because they're from all over. It means that we can do a show and people watch it in Europe and people watch it in Pakistan, and our audience is watching it in Portland. It sparks our creative juices, figuring out ways to make this keep happening."
SEE IT: Rain & Roses streams through April 26
and Death and Delight streams through May 10 at bodyvox.com.