Water Bodies makes a splash at the Annenberg Center

October 24, 2009

'Water Bodies' worth diving into, despite a few rocky spots

By Ellen Dunkel

For The Inquirer

Sat, Oct. 24, 2009

Not everything went swimmingly when the dance troupe BodyVox opened Water Bodies at the Annenberg's Zellerbach Theatre on Thursday night. There were technical difficulties and mistakes nearly from the start: Video wouldn't play; sound volume and quality were inconsistent; dancers missed steps.

But the Portland, Ore., group's suite of modern dances paying homage to H2O is so charming, funny, and inventive that the flaws hardly mattered.

The evening opens with co-artistic director Jamey Hampton testing the waters and dancing in a bathtub. (Later, he and the tub return several times - these are wild fantasies, brought on by the steamy bath?)

The clever "Kaleidoscope" brings synchronized swimming to land. On stage, the dancers seem to be doing classical steps, but behind them a screen shows the scene from above - and it's very Esther Williams-esque. "The Big Dip" contained a big mistake, with a dancer missing a key pose, but it was a fun under-the-sea dance combining - of all things - hip-hop and the Charleston.

The Nutcracker may feature a waltz of the snowflakes, but "Serein" has a quintet of gray-clad raindrops. "S.O.S" strikes a serious note, as women in long white gowns and black-jacketed men take a last turn in the ballroom of the Titanic.

But the company dives in more in the funny pieces, among them the video "Metamorfishes: Like Kafka But Wetter," a love story/dream sequence between a geeky aquarium employee and a customer who become Chinese fighting fish.

Ever seen a ballet about fishing? BodyVox performs an amusing two-parter, "Fishers Are Men" and "Catch of the Day," with Ashley Roland as the huge fish that takes two men - and a skateboard - to reel in. Then they have the unwieldy job of hauling her into the cooler.

BodyVox was founded in 1997 by Hampton and Roland, alumni of Momix (Hampton was an original member and also danced in Pilobolus), and their troupe has a similar, if less polished feel. It has a Philadelphia connection as well - dancer Heather Jackson, who trained at the Rock School for Dance Education.

And despite a little choppiness, their Water Bodies made a splash.