BodyVox founders: 20 years on stage and in life
It's actually been longer than 20 years that Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland have been dance company partners, and a real-life couple. It's been more like 30 — since, gasp, the 1980s. But Hampton and Roland are celebrating year No. 20 in both aspects of their life, 20 years since they said "I do" and 20 years since they said "let's do this" in starting BodyVox, one of Portland's premier dance organizations.
"And we remain committed with senses of humor, delight and beauty," Roland says.
"I think I'm the luckiest guy in the world," Hampton says. "For my entire professional career, practically, the last 30 years, I've been able to work to make so many beautiful things, to bring joy to the world, with the person I'm with. Sometimes you forget about that. That's your normal.
"I don't think about how abnormal it is. It's just really weird. I feel blessed and fortunate."
The two had known each other for 10 years before being married on Sept. 7, 1997. They had worked together in New York City, both with a company called Momix and their own group, ISO. Hampton, a Portland native and Lincoln High and Dartmouth grad, had gone back east to work with Pilobolus, and also traveled the world performing; Roland hails from New York and Connecticut. They moved to Portland in 1994.
About the same time as their nuptials, they started BodyVox, after being asked to choreograph dance for the opera "Carmina Burana" for Portland Opera. After the successful collaboration, they looked around at the Portland dance scene and its wonderful talent, and decided to make a company out of it.
Much highly acclaimed work later, BodyVox opened its 20th season with "Lexicon" at BodyVox Dance Center last week. As with many of their productions, Hampton and Roland made it entertaining and stimulating, incorporating infrared sensors, virtual reality and other technologies and their usual use of video to put on a first-class show.
Twenty years ... or 30, if you want to be technical.
"We all started when we were 5, right?" jokes Roland, 53. "Twenty years feels like it went by in a flash, and yet I feel like the accomplishments and amount of creation that has taken place through this entity is mind-boggling."
Continuing to push the creative buttons to even last 20 years takes a lot of work and dedication and conscious thought about how to put on dance differently. Inspiration comes from many places, they say, from everything from dreams to music to simple thoughts.
"They are truly a gift," Roland says, of ideas. "It's an act of divinity, that you open yourself up to creation. Although deadlines do help. At that point it's 'Hail Mary, got a show tomorrow.'"
Says Hampton, 63: "It's very difficult to manufacture an idea. It has to come to you."
BodyVox has maintained many of the same dancers and company members, which helps stabilize it in what can often be a tumultuous sea full of arts organizations.
It also has a crew of young people, making it an eclectic company in age and form. BodyVox doesn't conform to any style of dance, other than contemporary. And, Roland says, they often invent their own dance.
BodyVox has put on many distinctive shows, such as the recent "BloodyVox" during Halloween.
Roland looks back at their work on "Carmina Burana" as a seminal "big bang" moment
Hampton reflects on doing shows with live bands and live video effects. They've done shows with the music of Tom Waits, Joe Henry and Elvis Costello, and many collaborations with Chamber Music Northwest and a show with Edgar Meyer.
In "Lexicon," BodyVox has teamed with Italian avant-garde composer Ludovico Einaudi, who touches on classical, rock, electronica and world music and whose film scores have included "Doctor Zhivago" (2002) and "Sotto Falso Nome" (2004).
BodyVox also makes short films, which they play throughout performances.
"What you do on film you can't do on stage," Roland says. "You can create different hours of days and scenes instantaneously. That's inviting. It lends a break to dancers and audiences. And we like to put our evening together so the audience goes on a journey. Films sew the show together, they can build a theatrical arc."
"Lexicon" is language, and the choreographers put together the piece to use technology in the service of the dance to make them create different movements. There are infrared sensors, live video graphics, motion capture, virtual reality and other technologies. There is green-screen video use, there is animation use. All to accentuate communication in the non-verbal sense through space, sound, light and motion.
"This show is incredibly immersive," Hampton says. They call it "a true laboratory of dance theater."
Working alongside them are filmmaker Mitchell Rose and animator Mike Smith (lead character designer on Laika's "The Boxtrolls").
Hampton and Roland have performed many times together. For "Lexicon," they are just choreographers, which Hampton actually prefers these days.
Dancing in your 50s and 60s is quite different than in your youth.
And it's often more fun to set up dance for others, says Hampton, who does stay in terrific shape with a committed workout regimen — as does Roland.
"You try to stay as healthy as you can," says Hampton, speaking for both of them. "After awhile, you find that your body is creating limitations. You can choose to utilize it in the service of the work, or 'I can't do that move, but I know what I want to see,' so you have other people do it.
"My body is constricting now, and it won't do things as before. My imagination runs wild, though. And I find that choreography is richer because I'm not trying to do it. I'm not dancing, I'm seeing. You can dance in your mind and imagination. It really works. It's still dancing, and I find I don't miss it."
They performed on "BloodyVox." "The vehicle defines our involvement," Roland adds.
Says Hampton: "Dancing on stage is completely different than standing outside and choreographing and putting work on. At this point in our evolution, it's really hard to do both simultaneously. If I'm going to try to make a piece and be in it, it's pretty difficult."
But dancing together is still "rich and wonderful," he adds.
Indeed, they have maintained a symbiotic relationship on and off the stage, and they have two sons. It goes back to their many years of knowing each other, working with each other, before, as Hampton says, they went "all in."
Says Roland: "We did a lot of growing up in the company before BodyVox; with ISO, we had four artistic directors. There was a lot of struggle getting ideas on stage, making shows right, we burned off collaborative karma. We realized how to best work with each other ... It helped us see the goal as where you put your effort, instead of putting your personal identity into it. In marriage, you work toward making the marriage great, and in the company making dance great."
Adds Hampton: "Ashley and I, a long time ago, eradicated, for the most part, having any ego around what we do."
"Lexicon" stages at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, as well as 2 p.m. Saturdays, through Dec. 16, at BodyVox Dance Center, 1201 N.W. 17th Ave. Tickets/info: starting at $30, www.bodyvox.com.