In the third chapter of BodyVox's nine-part dance film Figments, a crowd of unruly customers brings chaos to a diner. Yet when two of them leap onto a table and start dancing, their waiter doesn't scold. He snatches the tablecloth out from under their feet when they leap into the air, a movement so graceful it's as if he's relinquished control and joined their pas de deux.
You will experience a similar sense of blissful surrender if you watch Figments, a reimagining of past BodyVox performances choreographed by artistic directors Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland that debuted last month as a drive-in movie at Zidell Yards. Rather than reflect our grim moment, the film counters it with an ebullient blast of spectacle, goofiness and joy that leaves you in a state of almost spiritual awe.
Hampton and Roland don't link the myriad parts of Figments using a narrative or theme—they allow each dance to exist on its own terms. "In the Garden of Synesthesia" is surreal. "Didn't It Rain" is raucous. "Hopper's Diner" is playful. "Deep Wading" is serene. "Urban Meadow" is buoyant. "Falling for Grace" is romantic. "Figments" is ravishing. "Toy Boat" is dreamy. "Café Blanco" bristles with youthful vigor.
Hampton and Roland relish going big, but they trust their audience's appetite for intimate dances like "Synesthesia," which opens the film. At once small and smashing, the piece obscures the faces of the dancers, favoring mirrored images of extended limbs wrapped in Roland's sumptuous, multicolored costumes. Experiencing "Synesthesia" is like staring through a kaleidoscope—you rarely know what exactly you're seeing, but you don't want to look away.
If Figments were a mere procession of perfect images, it might have grown wearying. Yet there's rambunctious silliness in many of the dances, including "Café Blanco," which features a symphony of rollicking scooter action, and "Urban Meadow," in which the dancers dress like sheep and shout, "Bah!" The exuberance of the performers often makes you forget you're watching some of the most accomplished contemporary dancers in the world, not the world's greatest game of make-believe.
Figments grows somber during the lyrical "Falling for Grace," but the mood doesn't last. Hampton and Roland repeatedly take the show to euphoric heights, helped by both the dancers and their crew, especially lighting designer James Mapes. When the dancers appear to transform into choppy, levitating silhouettes that float in front of an orange backdrop, you start to wonder where the dancing leaves off and special effects begin, but it doesn't matter. Whenever Figments defies categorization, it delivers a sublime high.
When I interviewed Hampton and Roland last year about their Halloween-themed film BloodyVox: Lockdown, Hampton rejected the label "modern dance."
"We don't call it modern dancing because nothing is modern anymore," he explained.
There's no umbrella term that could encompass all of BodyVox's creations—not even "dance." As much a film as it is a dance film, Figments evokes the imagery of movies as different as James Cameron's Avatar and Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (part of Mark Mothersbaugh's zany Zissou score is featured in the performance).
Visual similarities aside, it doesn't feel right comparing Hampton and Roland to other filmmakers; they're screen visionaries in their own right. They show equal ease speaking the languages of dance and film—particularly during "Toy Boat," in which Jillian St. Germain dangles from the ceiling in a half-sphere, elegantly contorting her body to the beat of Yoko Ono's music.
"Toy Boat" contains one of the most cinematic images in Figments: a gloriously wide shot of St. Germain hanging in the heavens. A lone woman in a bubble floating in the void might sound like a perfect metaphor for life during COVID-19, but the pervading feeling is wonderment. You don't feel as though you're looking at someone who is trapped. Like everyone and everything in Figments, she's going somewhere.
SEE IT: Figments streams at bodyvox.com/performance/figments through March 11. $25.