The other day I drove up to Portland to catch a behind-the-scenes sneak peek of BodyVox‘s highly-anticipated new holiday show, “BloodyVox: Fresh Blood.”
Hard to say which I was looking forward to more: the opportunity to observe one of my favorite dance troupes perfecting a piece before revealing it to the public, or my interview immediately afterwards with troupe founders, Jamey Hampton and Ashley Rowland.
Rowland herself met us at the door (I’d whisked my daughter out of school to join me for the occasion) and led us back into the main performance studio where troupe members were already deep into refining one of the show’s more elaborate pieces, “The Vampire’s Ball.”
A run-through of one of the trickier sequences left Jamey Hampton, the other half of the talented husband-and-wife duo, pleased. “That was beautiful,” he breathed out, grinning, then added, “but a full circle would be really dramatic. Guys, can you look at this?” He gestured to one of his troupe members and together they moved through the waltz again but this time with a slight variation.
Ashley, who had rejoined the dancers, counted: “One-two-three, two-two-three…”
Jamey: “I think we should stop on the four. It’s very musical and dramatic.”
The other troupe dancers, poised in various positions about the room, listened intently.
Jamey: “See, it would look nice if it was all wrapped up tightly and then would go–swoosh!” He gestured grandly with his hands and arms. An emotional explosion.
While some practiced this new twist, others not immediately involved started letting off steam. One of the dancers dropped into a handstand.
Another troupe member playfully donkey-kicked her partner, then in mock apology embraced him with a dramatic kiss. Someone else popped off a set of push-ups. The blond with the expressive hands and face tried out mock poses in front of the mirror.
And indeed, throughout the two-and-a-half hours of practice that followed, the mood remained professional but loose. Sharp but spontaneous. Respectful and yet gleefully wicked. Much like the feel of a BodyVox performance and the founders themselves.
I asked Hampton and Rowland about this ying-yang balancing act they manage to pull off: the precision of smartly choreographed movements and clever character details tempered by gooberliscious silliness and exuberance. How as the directors of a company are they able to elicit these qualities also from their dancers?
Also, what about this mysterious transformation of loosely-formed ideas to perfection on stage: What is behind such alchemy?
And equally impressive and intriguing to me: How had this husband-and-wife team managed to combine a creative partnership with a life shared after hours?
Ashley Rowland: “There’s a lot of improvising transferred from team player to team player because the goal is to make everyone look good.”
Jamey Hampton: “We try to keep ego out of it. To be there for our work, not our egos. Some of our dancers have been with us for fifteen years. They’re very good at what they do and we’re about everybody reaching their full potential. They feel permission to bring theater into their character, their own personality into the piece.”
Ashley Rowland: “And when you build in trust into relationships there’s this camaraderie that develops.”
Jamey Hampton: “So that even when something goes wrong on stage, with a costume or something, we all address it with ease and it becomes this delightful moment where even the audience is let in on it.”
Ashley Rowland: “I don’t think there’s any formula set in stone for how Jamey and I collaborate together. There’s a lot of ball passing. Maybe I’ll have an idea and he’ll take it down field. We have great trust in each other to lead the group.”
Jamey Hampton: “It’s pretty rare that we have a day that just goes ‘ker-plat’. We frankly don’t have time for that. We have to create so many shows, if you have a day where things aren’t going as planned, you just have to trust and follow whatever impulse you have. I don’t believe we ever start off with complete ideas. It’s about how you play with this or that.”
Ashley Rowland: “I think creativity has no arrival time. You can get an idea for a piece by watching concrete poured as you’re driving to work. Or an idea for a costume when you’re simply our clothes shopping. You start to play with everything.”
Jamey Hampton: “I think the key is to pay attention when those ideas do come. If you ignore them, they don’t come as quickly the next time. They say, ‘You’re not friendly to us.’ So then you have to spend time rebuilding the universe’s trust. With creativity, just like everything else, you have to keep working at it. There’s ability, and then there’s craft. Craft involves homework. And just doing it. And doing it. So we work a lot on our craft.”
Deanna Elaine Piowaty: And how does working together affect your personal relationship?
Jamey Hampton: “I think our work is our relationship.”
Ashley Rowland: “Our household, our parenting, it’s all woven together. Each an extension of the other.”
Jamey Hampton: “I always say there’s no way I could go home and explain to anybody else what I do all day.”
Ashley Rowland: “I’m so thankful to have a partner in life who sees things so openly. In all our projects. Whether its buying a car or choreographing a piece or parenting. It’s all fun.”
* * *
To order tix to see “BloodyVox: Fresh Blood,”
(first performance: Thursday, October 18th at 7 p.m. –
last performance: Saturday, November 3rd, 2 p.m. matinee and again at 7:30 p.m. )
visit the BodyVox website at http://www.bodyvox.com/