Dance review: Putting the body in BodyVox

At the start of BodyVox’s new and lavish new show Serious Cupcakes, Co-Artistic Director Jamey Hampton yells, “Enjoy… your… cupcakes! It’s a moment that reveals the soul of the performance which, despite the title, is not cupcakes.

As Hampton speaks, he is lying on the stage, flattening his body against the ground like a snake submerged in the grass. This is one of the many cases where Serious Cupcakes contorts the human body into a beautifully unusual shape that pushes the boundaries of muscles and bones.

This is nothing new for BodyVox. The contemporary dance company, led by Hampton and Ashley Roland, often tested the physical limits of its dancers. Yet even longtime BodyVox nerds can be in awe of Serious Cupcakes, which challenges artists to sculpt themselves in living embodiments of two themes: confinement and freedom.

The intense physique of “Serious Cupcakes”. Photo: Michael Shay, Polara Studio

Serious Cupcakes, which runs Thursday through Saturday through December 11 at the BodyVox Dance Center, is a crowd-pleasing extravaganza that unites generations of BodyVox visionaries. Each of the eight parts of the performance was created by a different choreographer, ranging from founding BodyVox member Daniel Kirk to Éowyn Emerald, the Canadian-born creative genius behind Scottish company Éowyn Emerald & Dancers.

emerald coin, Trinaire, is a remarkable fusion of costumes and choreography. The dancers start by wearing gray overalls – which make them look like gas station attendants – and move in a robotic way that makes them look like characters in a series of still images. It is undoubtedly an image of workers imprisoned by the drudgery of physical labor.

Trinaire abruptly changes course as the dancers tear off their jumpsuits, revealing tacky and colorful costumes. The style of the choreography also changes, the deliberately stilted rhythm at the start of the piece giving way to a fluid and fluid grace. It is the culmination of a journey to self-control that in many ways sums up Serious cupcakes.

A similar saga takes place in Movement is the Message, which was choreographed by Jenelle Gaerian and directed by Skye Stouber and Mako Barmon. This time, the tension between confinement and freedom is symbolized not by the relationship between the dancers and what they wear, but by a mass of screens which become both a prison and a way forward.

Movement is the message features three massive panels onto which images are projected. On screen you see dancers in sunglasses, but also fragments of films that disappeared before you could fully see them (I’m pretty sure I spotted Ryan Gosling’s eye in Blade runner 2049, and some celestial flourishes from Terrence Malick’s great spiritual odyssey Tree of life).

In an accompanying behind-the-scenes video, Stouber explains that a knee injury that limited his dancing abilities inspired him to pursue multimedia choreography. The three panels could be seen as a representation of his experience – the experience of an artist locked out of his body and trapped in a spiral of endless visuals that nonetheless promises an escape.

There are times when Serious Cupcakes revel in a less nostalgic form of escape. The best part of the program is Ascendant Dream, which was choreographed and performed by Daniel Kirk and features the best aerial work I’ve seen at BodyVox since watching Jillian St. Germain ripple inside a transparent hemisphere suspended in the sky.

Kirk says that Ascendant Dream was inspired by the dreams he had of flying. Only he can know how accurately the room captures these visions, but as he leapt through the air on a trapeze, it was undeniable that he had the elegance of a swan and the strength of an eagle.

The most extraordinary moment of Ascendant Dream comes when Kirk lands and slides on the ground. There is nothing sudden about his descent; his feet touch so soft and smooth that he looks like an astronaut coming in contact with the powdery surface of the moon. Like everything in Serious cupcakes, his choreography is the classic BodyVox, a celebration of the human body that transcends it in some way.


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